An estimated 1,000 of the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11 were of Irish descent or birth. On the 10th anniversary of the attacks, we look at the “living” memorials such as the scholarships and charities that have been established by the victims’ families.
Laying the foundation for peace
In the months following the 9/11 attacks, the Lynch family from the Bronx, New York, made the decision that they were going to help people. They had lost Michael Francis Lynch: son, brother, uncle and fiancé, one of the 343 firefighters who died during the rescue efforts. “We wanted to respond to evil by doing good for others,” said Michael’s father, Jack Lynch in an interview with Sheila Langan for Irish America. “We thought that was the best way to honor our son and brother. It’s what he would have wanted.”
In 2002, the family founded the Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation as a means “to help change the world, one person at a time by helping students of today become tomorrow’s stewards of peace and freedom.”
Since 2002, the foundation has granted 75 scholarships totaling over $1.6 million dollars to young adults who are children of firefighters or who lost a parent on 9/11 or in another national disaster. The foundation is largely family-run. Jack serves as the president; Michael’s sister-in-law, Lou Ann Eckert-Lynch, is in charge of the scholarship selection committee; and other family members oversee the foundation’s events and financial and legal concerns. The family works on a volunteer basis, and as Jack emphasized, they will “make sure it remains that way.” He added, “We plan to always take the higher road.”
More information on the foundation and its upcoming events can be found at www.mlynch.org
A pillar of strength
On September 11, 2001, Lynn Tierney was one of the four Deputy Commissioners at the New York Fire Department. Upon hearing about the attacks she went to the World Trade Center to assist in rescue operations. She helped at the Command Post in the lobby of Tower One, and narrowly escaped injury by diving into a loading dock when the second tower went down.
Lynn was always a pillar of strength for the firefighters, as well as a welcome feminine touch to the mostly male crew.
She lost many who were near and dear to her on 9/11 and wrote many obituaries and eulogies for her colleagues.
Lynn moved on from her job at the Fire Department because it became too painful, but she continued to be involved. She collaborated with friend and former firefighter Lee Ielpi, and others, to create the September 11th Families Association. The Association connected those who lost family members and friends, and enabled them to go through the healing process together.
Out of the September 11th Association came the Tribute Center. Lynn served as president of the center, which opened in September 2006 and now serves 500,000 visitors a year. The Center strives to connect those who want to understand the impact of 9/11 with people who experienced it.
“At the very worst time in our history, I saw the very best in the people who responded,” Lynn said. “That whole day whether you lived or died was a matter of happenstance and a few feet. I have grasped how short life is and how precious and how you should live it purposefully every day.”
Today, Lynn is associate vice president of communications at the University of California Office. She remains close to her colleagues in New York Fire Department.
“I just tell them ‘I’m Irish”
At 32, Tom Foley was already a ten-year veteran of the FDNY, when he died with Rescue 3 Company on 9/11. It was the job he dreamed of since childhood, when he would visit the Harlem firehouse of a family friend, Firefighter Bob Conroy.
“Tommy boy – that’s what I call him, ever since he’s a kid,” Conroy said, speaking to Brian Rohan for Irish America just days after 9/11. “I can still see Tommy boy running around the firehouse in Harlem, running around and getting filthy dirty. It’s all he ever wanted to do.”
As a firefighter, Foley had made many daring rescues. In 1999, he and Police Officer Romano Amleto went over the side of a high-rise building to rescue two construction workers whose scaffolding had collapsed. Descending by ropes, Foley and Amleto grabbed the men, safely bringing them to the ground.
In addition to being a firefighter, Tom made a name for himself as a rodeo rider (his interest in the cowboy lifestyle came from working on his grandfather’s farm in upstate New York. He was also a competitive power lifter, and found time to skydive. In 2000, People magazine featured Tom, who was born in the Bronx and grew up in West Nyack, as one of the sexiest men at work. He was also honored by Irish America in 2000 and he probably gave the shortest acceptance speech in the history of the awards. He shrugged, smiled, looked at the audience and said, “When anyone asks me, I just tell them ‘I’m Irish.’ ”
In the wake of 9/11Tom’s brother Danny Foley, who had followed his brother into the FDNY, made a promise to his family to retrieve his brother’s body and he did. “It took ten days, but a promise I made to my family was kept, when I brought Tommy home,” Danny said, addressing mourners at Tommy’s funeral at St. Anthony’s in Nanuet, New York.
The Firefighter Thomas J. Foley Foundation and the Firefighter Thomas J. Foley Memorial Scholarship Fund were established in 2001 to provide scholarships to dependent children of either an active or retired FDNY firefighters or officers. A documentary celebrating Tom’s life premiered this September. For information on the documentary and the foundation go to www.firefighterthomasjfoley.com
A child who wanted to help
On September 4, 2001, Collier Wimmer of Winston-Salem, North Carolina turned nine. On September 11 she was in Disneyworld to celebrate her and her little brother’s birthdays. At 8:42 a.m., 2000 miles away, American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Collier’s mother, Ashley wished her children hadn’t seen the horrible images. “We had the TV on and since we were traveling, we couldn’t screen them from it. They saw a lot.”
And what Collier saw affected her. Like many school children across the country, she wanted to help in some way. She decided she would perform Irish step dancing in her front yard to raise money for the rescuers. A neighbor called the local newspaper and the ensuing photo caused quite a stir. It featured as picture of the week on MSNBC’s website and in Newsweek, and the response was “amazing and unbelievable,” according to Collier’s mother. “And not only locally. We’ve received checks from Washington State, Vermont, and Flordia. And just the sweetest notes.”
Ten years on, Collier is 19 and starting college at High Point University. When asked if in retrospect 9/11 made her more fearful or did it help galvanize her as she moved through her life, she said:
“There is always going to be scary things in the world; things we will always be afraid of. From the smallest spider to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but you should never let them stop you from moving forward. So in an odd, somewhat twisted way, the 9/11 attacks really galvanized me to move forward with my life; after all, this is the only life we’ve got, why waste it?”
Asked if Irish dance continues to be a positive influence in her life, Collier said: “Very much so! Irish dancing has taught me a lot of very important life lessons! I love Irish dancing! I know I will continue to dance throughout my life. Or at least I will try to.”
She loved a crowd and a good time
Moira Smith was the only NYPD policewoman of 23 officers from the NYPD who perished on 9/11. She was last seen leading an injured Edward Nicholls, a broker at Aon Corporation to safety from the burning World Trade Center just before the collapse of the first tower.
Moira, whose maiden name was Reddy, grew up in Brooklyn. She was a cop at the 13th precinct in Manhattan. “She loved a crowd and a good time,” Keith Kelly wrote in Irish America
following the attack: “I learned of her as a mom, a wife, a woman who loved the water and a rabblerouser, a chancer who had run with the bulls in Spain, rode elephants in North Africa and skied the mountains in Jackson Hole,Wyoming.”
Moira’s memorial service was held on February 14, 2002, Valentine’s Day. It would have been her 39th birthday. It also marked the10-year anniversary of Moira’s first date with her future
husband, fellow officer James Smith. On February 13, 2002, the day before the memorial service, Officer Smith and the couple’s 2-year old daughter, Patricia, helped christen the Moira Smith, a NY Waterway high-speed ferry named in Moira’s honor. Speaking to those gathered for the occassion, Jim said, “On the side of the Moira Smith is a Clagdagh, an Irish symbol meaning Friendship, Loyalty, and Love. This design embodies what Moira means to us: a good Friend, a Loyal police officer and American, and the Love of our lives.”
In 2002, The Moira Smith Fund was created as a way to help college age women receive an education and better their lives. Thus far, The Moira Smith Fund has provided college scholarships to several exceptional young women, who might not have been able to attend college otherwise.
For more information and details on the annual Moira Smith Boat Cruise go to http://moirasmithfund.com
Rising from the ashes
Cantor Fitzgerald brokerage on the 101st-105th floors of One World Trade Center lost 658 employees, about two-thirds of its workforce. Marsh & McLennan, which occupied the North Tower of the World Trade Center, between floors 93 and 100, lost 295 workers including an employee who was a passenger on one of the high-jacked planes. Sixty contractors hired by the company also died in the attack including 21-year old Thomas Ashton, an electrician who had been on the job two days. Aon Corporation, an insurance brokerage firm located in the 92nd and 98th–105th floors of the South Tower, lost 176 of its 1,100 employees who were present on the day of the attacks. One who didn’t make it out was Tom Cosgrove a Vice President of Claims, and father of three, who called his wife Wendy to say he was leaving the building but never made it.
Of the 67 employees lost from Keefe Bruyette & Woods, two were former honorees among Irish America’s Wall Street 50 – Chairman & CEO Joe Berry and Executive Vice-President Joseph Lenihan. Another victim from the same firm, Chris Duffy, was the son of former Wall Street 50 honoree John Duffy.
Berry, Lenihan and the two Duffys were among those who attended Irish America’s Wall Street 50 reception on July 11, 2001, the event that was held annually at Windows of the World restaurant top of One World Trade Center. (The restaurant itself lost 75 workers and 93 guests, talking business over bagels and coffee).
Cantor Fitzgerald, now located in mid-town Manhattan, was able to get its trading markets back online within a week following the attacks. For five years following the attacks the company distributed 25 percent of the firm’s profits, an amount totaling $150 million, to families of employees who were killed in the attacks.
Marsh & McLennan responded in the wake of 9/11 by contributing $20 million to establish the MMC Relief Fund for families of lost colleagues. Employees and clients of the company contributed a further $5 million.
Aon established The Aon Memorial Education Fund to provide post-secondary education financial assistance to the dependent children of the Aon employees who were killed in the World Trade Center attacks. In addition, Aon committed $1 million to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.
Keefe, Bruyette & Woods formed the Family Fund to support the families of employees lost in the attacks.
The family of Chris Duffy created The Chris Duffy Memorial Scholarship Fund Fordham Preparatory School, Bronx, New York. The family of Joseph Lenihan established the Joseph A. Lenihan Foundation for students at St. Thomas the Apostle and Hall High School, West Hartford, Connecticut.
In September 2001, the Joseph J. Berry Scholarship Fund was created to serve the student of Bishop Molloy High School in Briarwood, New York.