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Worth Hager Dies at Age 51

Sarah Dilworth “Worth” Hager Gatti, 51, died in her sleep on Friday, Aug. 10, 2007, in Arlington, Virginia.

She had been president of the National Waterways Conference since March 6, 2003, and from 1995 to 2000 was vice president of public affairs for the organization. She resigned as executive director on May 30, and had not announced her plans, though she was continuing her efforts to pass the 2007 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

On Wednesday, August 1, she sent an email to her mailing list announcing that the president intended to veto the legislation, which had been passed by both the House and Senate and was in conference. Attached to the email was a letter that was sent to James Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure by John Paul Woodley, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and Rob Portman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, stating that the president intended to veto the legislation.

Ms. Hager included in the email a suggested letter to President Bush objecting to this action.

This email was the last of scores of similar emails to waterways users, stakeholders and advocates, rallying them to speak out to their elected representatives about waterway issues. Her profound understanding of the legislative process, combined with seemingly endless energy created an awareness and a momentum that resulted in passage of the 2007 WRDA by both houses of Congress, after they had failed to vote on the legislation for several years.

News of her death was greeted with shock by the waterways industry, for which she had been an advocate since 1981 when she first joined the staff of the National Waterways Conference (NWC). In 1983, she was hired to lead the National Association of Dredging Contractors, an organization representing large-business dredging contractors in the United States. She held that position until April 1990, when the group re-organized and eliminated her position.

She returned to the NWC in 1995 as vice president of public affairs, working again with her original boss Harry Cook, whom she credited with igniting her interest in the waterways.

At her memorial service in Arlington, Virginia on August 15, Harry Cook, president emeritus of the NWC stated in a eulogy that “many people consider waterways issues to be mundane, humdrum, maybe even boring. But not Worth. She was always eager to learn all she could from everyone: maybe from me at first, but also from others in the navigation arena, in dredging, in flood control, in seaports (particularly from Peter (Gatti, her husband)), and from good friends in the Corps of Engineers and on Congressional staffs. Worth was always eager for information and insights about port and waterways matters so she could better understand the issues and thus work to advance the civil works program.”

Robert B. (Rob) Vining, former chief of the Programs Management Division of the Corps of Engineers Chief’s office, said in his eulogy: “Harry has talked about her passion for the waterways. The one thing that she cared more for than the waterways was the Corps of Engineers. I don’t believe there is a soul living, inside or outside of the Corps, who cared more for the Corps than Worth Hager.

“There was no down time for her,” said Vining. “I still remember the time during the FY 2005 appropriations committee hearings when Worth got [Congr.] David Hobson, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development, to wear a button that said “5.5 in ‘05". The 5.5 stood for $5.5 billion. I want to ask you, is there anyone else that could get the Chairman to wear that button?

“Worth did it, and she did it with love and care. We didn’t get 5.5 [billion], but we got a lot more than we would have to meet our country’s needs because of Worth, and that’s something that will stay with me and, I think, a lot of us... There’s certainly never been a stronger ally of the Corps and the waterways than Worth,” said Vining.

James M. Haussener, executive director of the California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference (C-MANC), in his eulogy, said: You have heard a lot about how she touched everybody and she cared so much, whether you are Bishop David Cotton with the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board or the Walla Walla District of the Corps of Engineers, or the Ruhr folks in Europe. Worth had in her heart an affinity for every last one of us, every last one, I don’t care how silly the question was, how small your problem was, how big your problem was, she would spend hours with you talking about it.”

Maj. Gen. Don T. Riley, director of Civil Works, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, presented Ms. Hager the Corps of Engineers de Fleury medal, named after French engineer Lt. Col. Francois de Fluery, who fought with the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War.

“Worth had a unique capability,” said Gen. Riley. “It wasn’t single purpose or focused, like many of our partners and stakeholders. She had this capability to bring coalitions together, all centered around the waterways – economic development for the nation, environmental sustainability of the waterways, or efficient use of the waterways for the industry. She could do that more so, I think, than anyone.

“She reminds me of soldiers. Soldiers … live hard lives; they sacrifice for their country. I saw that in Worth. She was always tremendously and significantly at a high energy level. What she did, not just for the Corps, but for all the federal agencies involved in water resources and in waterways, she was good partners with them all, very supportive of them all.

“The de Fluery Medal is presented to those in the Corps of Engineers and friends of the Corps of Engineers who have made a significant difference to the work of the Corps. Given Worth’s skills as an un-enlisted soldier, I think this is most deserving,” he said, handing the medal to her family.

Funeral Services were held on Saturday, August 18 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Asheboro, North Carolina.

Worth was a native of Asheboro, graduated from Asheboro High School, attended Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1977.

Surviving her are her husband, Peter J. Gatti of Arlington, Virginia, siblings, Scott Hager and Annie Hager-Blunk of North Carolina, Jamie Hager of Brighton, England and grandmother, Mrs. James B. Neely of Asheboro, North Carolina.

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