Secretary recalls working for The Boss

Updated: July 13, 2010, 11:09 PM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- When Judi Rivkin heard that George Steinbrenner died on Tuesday, she immediately thought it was "the end of an era."

Those thoughts were echoed by baseball fans around the country after word trickled out that the New York Yankees' longtime owner died at a Tampa hospital early Tuesday morning after suffering a heart attack.

[+] EnlargeCandles
AP Photo/Kathy WillensSome fans left candles outside Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, as a memorial for The Boss.

But Rivkin had a closer view than most.

She served as George Steinbrenner's personal secretary from the winter of 1987 to the summer of 1989.

"It was inherently exciting," Rivkin said of working for The Boss. "You felt like you were a part of something important."

Rivkin also noted that "you never knew who was going to call" Steinbrenner. She answered phone calls from everyone from Lou Piniella to then New York governor Mario Cuomo.

And while Steinbrenner was well-known for his bombast and big-spending ways, Rivkin often saw the compassionate side of the Yankees owner, who worked often with local charities.

"He did an awful lot of good things that no one ever new about -- he kept those things quiet," said Rivkin, whose first day of work in Dec. 1987 coincided with a party to celebrate Tommy John's successful and revolutionary elbow surgery.

Rivkin also worked closely with Steinbrenner during his time as chairman of the Olympic Overview Commission (1988-89) that was created to evaluate the U.S. Olympic program.

She took minutes from committee meetings and helped create a 22-page "Steinbrenner Report" that many credit as having a profound impact on the way the country approaches Olympic competition.

"[Steinbrenner's] work on behalf of the U.S. Olympic Committee and in particular U.S. Olympic athletes continues to affect the way the USOC conducts business today," the U.S. Olympic Committee said in a statement released Tuesday. "The Steinbrenner report in 1989 revolutionized the USOC's sport performance philosophy, and a generation of Olympians have benefited as a result."

But Rivkin's tenure in the Bronx also had a few rocky moments. She said the most unpleasant part of working for Steinbrenner was his unpredictability.

Rivkin, who now works as an events manager for the Princeton University Program in Law and Public Affairs, never experienced the "full force" of the Yankees owner's infamous wrath. She had an office next to Steinbrenner's, though, so she heard him go off on many occasions.

But it wasn't Steinbrenner's bluster that left a lasting impression on Rivkin. On Tuesday, more than 20 years after her last day working in the Bronx, she said that she'll always remember her stint as The Boss' secretary fondly.

"You never knew what was going to happen," Rivkin said. "I know I'm going to miss him."

That was the general sentiment among Yankees fans at the Yankee Clubhouse stores in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon.

"It's definitely sad," Noel Paula, a 20-year-old from the Bronx, said outside of the store on W. 49th St. "It's good that he got to win that last championship at the new stadium.

"I think for him to build the stadium was a dream come true for Yankee fans and all baseball fans in general."

"I guess in a way he was almost the father of the Yankees," Meghan Creehan of Plainfield, N.J., said outside of the store on 59th St. and Lexington Ave. "He bought the team and everyone looked at him as an owner, but he was a person first and he was respected. … It's just a sad day."

Ian Begley is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com

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