COVID’s Toll On The Environmental Community: Remembering NOAA’s Jen Pizza

This week, we marked the grim milestone of 500,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.  We know that many among them cared deeply about the environment and climate change, and many were public servants.  In their honor, we want to tell the story of one — Jennifer “Jen” Pizza, who died suddenly last Sunday of complications from the virus. 

NOAA’s Acting Administrator, Ben Friedman, paid tribute saying, “Jen was an amazingly dedicated contributor.” One of her supervisors, Craig McLean, said “I recall asking her how she found her way to NOAA and she explained her love of the environment, being outdoors, and working in the conservation world with the passion I saw in her every day. Further, she explained, at one point she thought, “I should go over to Government and see ‘how the MAN’ does this.”  I responded that now she is ‘the MAN!’  I think her laughter shook all of our building.”

Why This Matters: Jen’s latest supervisor, Michael Bonadonna, the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology said, “Her exuberance, positive and cheerful outlook, and selflessness quickly earned our respect and admiration.  She also displayed great courage and determination, speaking truth to power and never giving up.  The loss of such a wonderful person and valued member of our NOAA family puts a sharp focus on the enormous impact one professional civil servant can have and the tragic toll taken by the COVID pandemic.” Jen was also a talented photographer and animal lover.  Rest in joy, Jen.

More Tributes to Jen

Craig McLean, Office of Atmospheric Research said,  “I often wonder where NOAA finds such people. They find us and we are grateful for them, grateful for the time they spend with us….She delighted in the simple turns of the day when small victories could seem big as she would light up with a smile and gleam in her eyes that would fill a room…Even after leaving my office to return to her love of Arctic work, she stayed in touch. I’d get a cheerful and supportive email from her during such challenging times as the Hurricane Dorian episode, or after a meeting when she thought I’d said something that no one else would. That I shared in common with Jen. Others think it; Jen would say it, and we were stronger for it…She had a passion for the people which I knew, but the expressiveness in her art was stunning.  It was also fun. Where do we find such people?  Jen Pizza is certainly one of the many who I cannot explain. She was my right hand, never let me down, always could muster a smile to make the day better, and no task was too small to bother, and none too big for her to accomplish. I would not have enjoyed any measure of success without Jen having been at my side.  I don’t know how we do find them, but I’m grateful Jen found us. I will miss her. “
David Kennedy, another former supervisor remembered her this way, “Her smile and infectious personality made her a friend and colleague to most everyone she met and opened doors I never could have gotten through.  She had a huge heart and would drop everything she was doing to help out, whatever the crisis.  She was also an absolutely committed animal rights/foster care advocate and had rescued at least two pit bulls that I was aware of who became the loves of her life.  Beautiful, quirky, crazy, and unique.  I had a wild ride with her for years and wouldn’t have wanted to miss that opportunity for anything.  I will miss her terribly.”
Margaret Spring, former NOAA Chief of Staff, remembered her as “always calm and organized, quietly and effectively getting the job done, and also being funny and oh so human in the face of stress and political demands.  I really really liked her and was so glad she continued on in NOAA, meeting new challenges and taking on new opportunities. As a dog lover, I was a huge fan of her Instagram page and the funny photos of her adorable pup. Her heart was very big, her hats so quirky, and her smile so endearing. We have really lost someone special and our hearts go out to her family and loved ones.”

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