28 February 2009

Roemer praises the way Beverly re-defined the role of "citizen advocate"

Beverly Eckert came to work with, befriend and respect a number of people in Washington, DC. One of her closest allies in her "Washington work" was Tim Roemer, a former congressman from Indiana who became a member of the 9-11 Commission, and who later took on the leadership of  the Center for National Policy, a DC think tank.

In a Buffalo News opinion piece, Roemer recounts his experiences with Beverly, including an account of Beverly's penultimate Washington project, organizing support among other 9-11 family member activists for implementing reforms recommended by the WMD Commission report. According to Roemer, who also served on the WMD Commission, Beverly participated in a conference call, "suggesting ideas, recommending strategies and enthusiastically jumping back into her role as an advocate of reform."

Not long after the conference call, Beverly and several of her colleagues met in Northern Virginia with former senator Bob Graham in Northern Virginia to plan their next moves: organizing, strategizing, lobbying, pressing relentlessly, once again, for positive change.

[Members of the WMD Commission appear in the photo. Commission Chair Graham is far left; Roemer is second from right.]

26 February 2009

Stamford memorial service planned for March 7

Beverly was known best for her 9-11 work, but once the bulk of that was finished, she devoted herself more to service in her community. For example, in October she wrote to me: "Tonight I met with the mayor of Stamford to try to move along a neighborhood beautification project that everybody else has given up on." It makes me wonder whether this project will be completed now that Beverly's persistent oversight will be missing. As noted earlier, Beverly was also a voluteer for Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County. In a tribute to her work, the staff wrote, "Beverly's selfless attitude, persevering spirit, and compassionate heart, live on in all we do."

This fall she began volunteering as tutor in math and reading for students in grades 2-5. And so it is appropriate that the site of her memorial service in Connecticut will be the Julia A. Stark Elementary School, not far from her house in the Glenbrook section of Stamford. Beverly was both charmed and somewhat daunted by this new challenge. Although she loved children, she had never taught them before. But Beverly went every week to help her "little sweeties." Beverly was impressed with the school and the students. "I've discovered elementary school is sure a lot harder now than when I went. They really challenge the kids to think -- it's not just rote..."

The service is planned for 11 a.m. on March 7, and a reception will follow in the school's cafeteria.

[Photo: In front of the school stands this statue of  a student's shoelace being tied.]

23 February 2009

A "strong woman" remembered in Buffalo by family and friends

February 20, 2009, Buffalo, NY

Beverly Eckert always spoke fondly to me about Buffalo. It was where she had met Sean at a high school dance, where they fell in love, and married in a simple ceremony in her sister's back yard. It was the place she returned to, on holidays and other occasions, happy and sad, to celebrate the birth of a niece or nephew, exchange presents with family at Christmas, and receive hugs of comfort on anniversaries of Sean's death.

The plan, before all of this, was to arrange a trip to Buffalo with Beverly, and she would be my tour guide of the landscape of her life before moving off to Boston and New Jersey and Stamford. She was going to show me people and places from her life before September 11, 2001.

My tour of Buffalo this past weekend was shorter and sadder than the one I had earlier planned.

It was a city still in mourning for the 50 lives lost in the crash of Flight 3407. I checked in on Friday afternoon at the Lord Amherst Hotel, which sits on Main St. where it crosses Interstate 90, just a few miles from the airport. In this simple, but homey medium-sized lodging Beverly would stay when her relatives had no spare beds. I decided to drive down Main St., toward Clarence and the site of the crash.

At schools, offices and firehouses, flags flew at half mast. Sign boards contained messages of condolence to those lost. And along the road to Clarence Center, the each light post was tied with two plastic ribbons: one black, one white. The Zion Lutheran Church's sign had a message offering counseling services. The roads leading to the crash site were guarded by New York State Troopers, sitting in their vehicles, engine's idling to ward off the blustery cold. Only the cleanup crews could enter. Heavy digging vehicles filled dump truck after dump truck with soil and debris from the crash site. A Buffalo News article reported that all that was left once the crews were done was crushed stone to fill the crash crater. An officials said the site would be graded and seeded come spring. Karen Wielinksi, whose husband died when the plane came down on their house on Long Street, said that for now the site will remain vacant.

There really wasn't much to see, but I had to come to Beverly's "ground zero."

Later, I drove back down Main St. toward Buffalo, and stopped in at the venue for Beverly's memorial service, St. Joseph University Church. It was quiet inside, the pews empty, only the vigil candles lit. The high, vaulted ceiling is painted sky blue, and the stained glass windows turned the outside light into rich gem tones of ruby, emerald and sapphire.

February 21, 2009

Those who came from near and far to pay tribute to Beverly Eckert arrived early and in large numbers. By the time the service began, many hundreds stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the pews and chairs. There were members of Beverly's family in the right front rows, facing the alter. And Sean's family were across the aisle.

Family members of 9-11 victims came to pay respects. Some of them had worked tirelessly with her in the many struggles they took on. After the opening hymn, "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace," a small group of family members lit candles on the alter to commemorate the 50 who died the week before in Clarence Center.

Karen Eckert had invited me to sit with the family members, and I was grateful for the honor, though feeling trepidation over any perceived sense of intrusion by an outsider. But I was put right at ease by Lisa, a Buffalo-area family member, who put a comforting hand on my shoulder the first time I quietly sobbed. She offered me tissues, but I told her I'd come prepared. The night before I had dined on the spicy wings of the Anchor Bar, and had grabbed a big handful of their absorbent napkins, knowing I'd need them at the church. Tears gave way to smiles. There is a truth about 9-11 family members, they know well how to offer comfort. So many tears, so many gently offered shoulders to shed them on.

Beverly's sister-in-law, Cynthia Blest, read from the Book of Proverbs. Beverly's friend, Nada Radulovich, played the Prelude from Bach's Suite in G Major -- haunting, soaring strains rose from the cello, and stirred my heart as if the bow was being pulled across it. Beverly had loved Bach. Ray Eckert, Beverly's brother, read words from Martin Luther King, Jr. And Beverly's sister, Margot, carried us through Beverly's full life with her inspired and loving words, from playful child to "strong woman." Her poetry made us smile as vivid images of Beverly flashed in our minds.

“Strong woman, my sister. Asking questions, getting answers. Pushing governments, prodding presidents, speaking justice,” Margot's words resonated in the cavernous sanctuary.

The Buffalo News article about the service noted that Beverly's brother-in-law, Bill Bourque, "also reflected on her relentless drive in the face of losing her husband."

“In the aftermath of Sept. 11," he said, "she gained access to the powerful and became well-known and well-respected. We knew she was not in it for herself. She was in it so that this should never happen to anyone again. Because of her, our nation became a safer place. She was one of the main reasons the powerful moved at all, because nothing is more powerful than the simple, clear truth.”

One family member had told me afterward that it was the most beautiful of memorial services. The music and the words had created a mood, painted a picture, captured a life, in a wonderfully evocative way. Everyone involved had strong inspiration.

Beverly Eckert had graduated from the Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart in 1969. Her alma mater was preparing to present her with its distinguished alumna award in May, and Beverly was busy working as the chair of her class's 40th reunion committee. But on Saturday, Beverly's high school was the setting for a celebration of her wonderful life. Mourners proceeded down Main St. from St. Joseph about a mile to Sacred Heart, and were greeted on the walk from the overflowing parking lot by some of the school's students.

Inside, a long, quiet line of guests waited to pay their respects to members of the Eckert and Rooney families, who stood in a line in front of the large stage of the auditorium. They shook hands, received warm embraces, exchanged fond words watered sometimes with tears with many, many friends and acquaintances. On a projection screen rising high at center stage flashed photos of Beverly, the Beverly Eckert of Buffalo, Boston and Stamford, smiling her bright smile in the company of sisters and brother and parents and nephews and nieces and Sean. Family and friends, holidays and vacations. It was warm reminiscence of the happy Beverly who lived a normal life for most of her years.

In the high-ceilinged hallway outside, bulletin boards were filled with photos of teenaged Beverly. There were some examples of her early, exemplary writing, a poem titled "What is Love," another one, dark and mysterious, about ashes and an ashtray. Downstairs, in the gym, a band played, good food was laid out, and there were mostly smiles as people share memories.

Sacred Heart has remembered Beverly here and posted media coverage of alumnae remembrances here. And there is also information on the school's Beverly Eckert Memorial Fund.

19 February 2009

A "bright light," an "angel of courage"

Sean's sister, Sheila Rooney, has written a warm and poignant tribute to the love between her brother and Beverly in the Buffalo News. The headline reads: "Beverly's bright light will be sorely missed." Rooney wrote that the phrase "'Sean and Beverly' had been part of our lexicon for so long that for our families, it was just one entity. Now it seems that, again, our families must endure a tremendous loss."

The first recipient of the Sean Rooney Scholarship which Beverly had established in 2002 was Remy Uwilingiyimana. He recently sent a message to friends and family of Beverly, describing how much she meant to him. He wrote that receiving the scholarship, which enabled him to attend Canisius High School, "was a life changing opportunity." He added that Beverly had continued to be involved with his life, attending his graduation and helping in other matters. "She was an angel of courage and a true inspiration," he added. Remy is junior at Boston College studying international business.

17 February 2009

Feb. 21 Memorial Service in Buffalo Announced

Family members have announced the details for the memorial service for Beverly Eckert on the new web site, Remembering Beverly. The service will be at St. Joseph University Church at 11 a.m., with a reception afterward at Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart.

Beverly and the quilters of Iowa: Connecting with the heartland

Betty Nielsen of Fonda, IA did not know anyone who died on 9-11, but she was strongly driven after that day to do something for the survivors. She established Freedom Quilts to provide the comfort and warmth of hand-stitched quilts, and the sympathy and love of their creators to the family members who had lost a loved one in New York, Shanksville and Arlington. (Her group later expanded donations of quilts to families of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

When Betty and her husband Dennis travelled in the winter of 2003 to deliver quilts to 9-11 family members in Connecticut, Beverly offered them her legendary warm hospitality, and, along with Mary Fetchet, helped the Nielsens in their selfless mission. When Betty Nielsen learned of Beverly's death, she wrote a moving letter to a friend, saying that her heart was broken, because for the first time since she started her project, she could say that she had lost someone connected to 9-11 that she cared about, "a dear friend" who had touched the lives of so many.

It is true that the attacks fell heaviest on this country's East Coast. But on 9-11 there arose in the hearts of millions of Americans everywhere a sense that we are one. These human ties -- connecting souls from Stamford to Slidell to Fonda -- bind us all more tightly than any anthem or passport or flag.

[Photo of Betty Nielsen and Lee Ielpi, father of firefighter Jonathan, who was killed on 9-11.]

National September 11 Memorial and Museum Tribute

I don't know how many times Beverly would say, "I'm just not a writer." And every time I read one of her eloquent speeches or letters or recollections, I would tell her, "yes, you are."

The National September 11 Memorial and Museum has a page paying tribute to Beverly, and it contains an eloquent piece Beverly had written in July 2006 about her love for Sean, and that final call. It reads like a loving and poetic prayer.  
He was calm, so she didn't cry. He told her to give his love to his family. They spoke of their life together, all the happiness they'd shared. Over and over, he whispered that he loved her. They tried to live the rest of their lives in the few seconds they had left. Tried to make time stand still. Then, through the phone, she heard the tower begin its collapse.

Afterward, she tried not to think about what she lost - but what she'd had.
I am indebted to Jan Ramirez, Chief Curator and Director of Collections for the memorial and museum, for bringing the group's tribute to Beverly to my attention.

A first and last meeting with President Obama

Beverly was in breathless, mind-racing, adrenalin-fueled, post-meeting download mode when I spoke to her for the last time. She was taking a taxi from the White House to National Airport, having just met President Obama as part of a group of relatives of terrorism victims on February 6. As we (she) spoke, I could envision her balancing her cell phone on her shoulder as she went through her notes, the words tumbling out fast.

It was vintage Beverly, and this image of her will stay with me always.

We had many times gone through this same drill in the past few years. After press conferences, hearings, meetings, memorials and other events dealing with 9-11, we she would talk on the phone or in person about what had happened, and what would happen next. Sometimes she her enthusiasm bubbled through the phone lines. Other times she would complain about being tired, frustrated, disappointed. But once she set upon a course of action, she would see it through to the end.

Beverly was not a political animal before her life changed. But it did not take her long to focus her intellect and instincts on the questions that mattered to her most: What went wrong on 9-11? And what does our country need to do to prevent another such catastrophe? To the very end she was fighting the good fight, from Stamford to Washington and every place in between. Some news accounts have described Beverly and the other family members as "amateur lobbyists." The only thing amateurish about Beverly was her working without salary.

"Wait," she suddenly said during this last call. "The sun is setting and we're just passing the Lincoln Memorial. It's so pretty... let me take a picture!" My smile turned to laughter as I pictured her craning in the back seat of the cab, angling her camera to get a fleeting shot of this scene that caught her eye. "Beverly," I said, "just buy a postcard!"

A couple of days later, Beverly sent me a long email describing the meeting with Obama. I had told her I wasn't taking notes during our phone conversation, and asked if she could write down her recollections. She was always eager to give a full account of her activities. I will use these last words to me as a basis for an article describing a courageous 9-11 activist's last stand. The meeting with the president has received a good amount of media coverage. This CNN piece offers some details absent in most articles, including the mention of the letter Beverly presented to the president, explaining her view on closing the Guantanamo detention facility.

Beverly was a member of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and in the photo above, another member of that group, Valerie Lucznikowska, is seen between Beverly and the president. Lucznikowska talks at length in this video clip to a Democracy Now reporter about Beverly's support of the president's decision to close the detainee camp.

16 February 2009

A perfectionist with a keen eye for detail

Beverly Eckert liked to have everything just so.

You could see it in they way she decorated her house, the way she dressed for an important event, the care she took in preparing the many written statements she read in front of gatherings large and small.

And just now, I made a small change in one of my earlier blog entries that Beverly had asked me to make. It illustrates her attention to detail, and her desire to leave behind an accurate record. This quality is of course golden to an historian, who values accuracy and a sharp observer's eye. In any case, I had written that there was a "small picture" of Sean looking down on us in the living room of Beverly's house. In the course of a telephone conversation a few weeks ago, Beverly mentioned, almost as an aside, that it would be nice if i could remove the word "small." She did not want people to think that she had any sort of diminished appreciation for Sean's pictorial representation in her house. 

I had said "small" because the photograph, sitting on a shelf, was unobtrusive, in scale with its surroundings, perhaps four by six inches in dimension. There were larger pieces of art on the walls, and I suppose I had subconsciously compared Sean's photo to these when I wrote those words.

I thought at the time of Beverly's remark that it was a small quibble. But upon reflection I realized that this was one of the most important things she could convey: her great appreciation and love for Sean. My use of "small" in connection with the photo of her husband had deeper significance than I had at first imagined. And so I learned a lesson in perceptions and sensitivity and perspective. And the keen eye of a perfectionist.

Another thing that has made working with Beverly over the years such a pleasure was her deep desire to present the truth with great honesty, to lay down the elements of her story and let the chips fall where they may. She did not shy away, for example, from discussing times of disagreement and dischord among members of the Family Steering Committee. Nor did she pull punches regarding her own shortcomings or foibles. Above all, she was concerned about making sure credit for 9-11 reform efforts was given where credit was due.

So readers of No Truer Hearts can expect an account as honest and meticulous as Beverly, one of the book's main sources. And, by the way, as straight and balanced as the perspective of the author. These days following Beverly's death have imbued accounts of her life with glowing praise without exception. And on an emotional and psychological and personal level that is to be expected. (But I can just imagine Beverly complaining about this blog's recent focus only on her.)

But as the time comes to put her story down on paper, the account will hew closely to what the sources provide -- all the sources, not just Beverly. That is what both she and I wanted most.

Remembering Beverly...

Beverly's tragic life story of enduring love and searing loss is told briefly and sparely by Charity Vogel of the Buffalo News. And here, a small detail speaks volumes: the fact that Beverly never removed the special wedding band she received from Sean. It had been on her finger the morning of their final goodbye. And she wore it all the years since, until her final day on this earth.

Margot Eckert, talks about her sister Beverly's grit and determination in this interview for Boston's Fox affiliate. She also mournfully talks of the loss. "She was my sister," said Margot, "I went on vacations with her. I had picnics with her. That is the hole she is leaving. Those are the holes being left by the people that died."

The quiet, humble, yet warm side of Beverly emerges in the comments of Canisius High School President John Knight in this Newark, NJ Star-Ledger article by Leslie Kwoh. "I would say she was very understated," said Knight. "She didn't draw a lot of attention to herself.... She's a phenomenal person, a very warm presence, a lovely smile and a kind word for everyone."

A small number of reporters got to know Beverly through their coverage of 9-11-related stories, and they have been painting more detailed and intimate portraits in their articles than those who never met her. Beverly's many accomplishments are inspiring; her humanity and grace are deeply affecting. Peter Urban has been covering the Washington beat for the Connecticut Post, and he has written a touching column about his reaction to Beverly's loss. When he learned of Beverly's death, writes Urban, "...my stomach churned, and it was tough to fight back the tears." And in an article, Urban notes the many tributes offered by those who knew Beverly and worked with her on government reform. "She was smart, analytical, decent and indefatigable," said Betsy Hawkings, chief of staff for Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut about Beverly. In No Truer Hearts, I will present the hitherto untold story of how 9-11 family members and congressional staffers formed a powerful and mutually supportive alliance which was able to overcome strong opposition from other members of Congress, the White House, and government agencies.

Beverly's husband, Sean Rooney, graduated from Canisius High School in 1969. In 2002, Beverly had established a scholarship in Sean's memory to give an opportunity for a student with potential who has financial need. More details about this aspect of Beverly's efforts appear on the page "Canisius Remembers Beverly Eckert."

And finally, (for today, at least) I will mention with mixed feelings the new Wikipedia article about Beverly. It is, like most Wikipedia articles, poorly written, unevenly sourced, and just factual enough to convince the reader that the whole thing is accurate. At some point, I will write a proper summary of Beverly's life, most likely on the forthcoming web page for No Truer Hearts

15 February 2009

Beverly Eckert: a life lived with love and purpose

In media reports, the poignant details about Beverly's life and the things she would have done had she lived keep emerging in bittersweet portions. 

On Friday, Tom Brokaw painted a warm, thoughtful and inspiring portrait of Beverly, in the regular NBC Nightly News segment, "Making a Difference." Brokaw called Beverly's last conversation with Sean "haunting and heartbreaking," and the veteran newsman, who had interviewed Beverly and kept in touch with her over the years, walks viewers though Beverly's long, loving relationship with Sean, the events of that terrible morning, and Beverly's new life afterward. It is painful to see Beverly's anguished face describing her moment of loss, but uplifting and even joyful to watch a parade of Beverly's old family photos, and videos of her 9-11 activism. Brokaw at his best.

One of Beverly's incredible qualities was to easily make a personal connection with a total stranger in a matter of minutes. Upon learning of Beverly's death, journalist Michael Howerton recounted how Beverly comforted him as he began to cry during an interview not long after 9-11 in which Beverly talked about her last conversation with Sean. It is a beautiful, brave and honest piece of writing. Yesterday, the Stamford Advocate reprinted the Sept. 19, 2001 article Howerton had written after his emotional interview with Beverly.

Today, Beverly would have been celebrating Sean's 57th birthday with family and friends in Buffalo. A Buffalo News article by Maki Becker and Steven T. Watson gives other details of Beverly's past and plans for her future. Kathleen Delaney, a close friend of Beverly's from their days at Sacred Heart Academy, was going to have Beverly over for "pizza and wine and lively conversation" on Friday, the day after her planned arrival, according to the article. The two women and other classmates were then going to talk about their 40th reunion at a dinner planned for last night. Sacred Heart officials were planning to present Beverly herself with the 2009 Distinguished Alumna award in May. Now, the award will be posthumous. 

Margot Eckert, of Springfield, MA, said she of all Beverly's four siblings spent the most time with Beverly. In an interview with Springfield's WWLP, Margot said of Beverly, "She was absolutely fearless in talking to authority, talking clearly, talking plainly, and she was an example to all of us that one person can make a difference."

Beverly's two other sisters (Karen Eckert and Susan Bourque) and her brother, Ray Eckert, appear in this brief but edifying interview with Don Postles of Buffalo's WIVB-TV. In telephone conversations with Beverly, before her trip to Buffalo, Karen Eckert said, "There was just laughter in her voice talking all the time throughout the week, what we were going to do and how we were going to do it." They talked about her courage, about the way Sean's courage in the face of death inspired Beverly, and how Beverly's resolve gave them strength.

One of Beverly's longest-lasting relationships among the 9-11 activists was with Mary Fetchet, with whom she co-founded the advocacy group Voices of September 11th in October 2001. Sheyenne Rodriguez of WTVD-TV, Raleigh-Duham, NC, put together a very nice video segment in which Fetchet pays tribute to her departed friend. A fuller video report, which contains more of Mary Fetchet's comments, can be found on abcnews.com and typing "remembering beverly eckert" in the search box.

14 February 2009

Reflections on a remarkable life...

In the coming days, the media accounts of Beverly's life and works will continue, and I will try to find the most notable. 

Beverly's quickly mastered skills as a "citizen activist" were admired by those with long experience in the political arena, among them, Timothy Roemer, who became a 9-11 commissioner after serving as a Member of Congress for 12 years, representing the 107th District in Illinois. In a Los Angeles Times article by Bob Drogin, Roemer says of Beverly: "She really redefined for America how to be an effective activist and committed citizen." He adds, "When she started, she didn't know if the House or Senate was bigger. Ultimately, she was leading strategy sessions, meeting editorial boards, leading rallies." I especially like the photo of Beverly that accompanies the article: she's squatting gracefully next to pile of lumber, clad in a white work shirt, jeans, sun-visor and tool belt, working in Slidell, La. on a Habitat for Humanity project. [Photo by Matthew Hinton, AFP/Getty Images.]

Tragedy forged a special connection between Beverly and the people of Slidell, La. For Beverly, it had been 9-11, and for the people of Slidell it was Hurricane Katrina. Habitat for Humanity projects helped the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast recover from the devastating storm. An article by Doug Mouton describes how a 9-11 memorial established by the people of Slidell deeply touched Beverly. "Out of everything you folks have been through," she said, "that you still want to do this 9-11 memorial is just, really, it just moved me, and I said 'I'm thanking the city with my heart, but I'm thanking you with my hands as well." Christine Harvey of the New Orleans Times-Picayune added more details to Beverly's Slidell connection. 

The photo above by Matthew Hinton shows Beverly working in Slidell with her Habitat colleagues. A slideshow with wonderful photos of Beverly's activities in the area has been assembled Hinton, of the Times-Picayune. Hinton also recorded an accompanying narration by Beverly, in which she described her work, and the inspiration she drew from Sean. This multimedia package sensitively evokes Beverly's love, strength, courage and expansive spirit.

There are some lovely and illuminating words from people who knew, loved and respected Beverly in this Hartford Courant article by Jesse Leavenworth. Beverly's long-time partner in 9-11 struggles and victories, and friend, Mary Fetchett, said, "Beverly's friendship, spirit and commitment were an inspiration to all those who had the privilege to work with her. It was an honor to know her and her friendship will be sorely missed." Others spoke of Beverly's multiple interests, stressing that she was not solely interested in 9-11, but her community as well, and the world at large. And when her major political battles were won in Washington, she gave herself a well-deserved break by setting off on other adventures, including long-distance sailing trips.

"She made a difference: Beverly Eckert became a force for good after her husband was killed on 9/11" reads the headline over the editorial in today's New York Daily News. So true. The accompanying photo makes me smile, even now. Beverly is beaming, sundrenched and windblown, an American flag crossing her heart. It is a wonderful way to remember her...

This thoughtful article by Jim Dwyer of the New York Times is warmed by his acquaintance with Beverly, and his genuine admiration for her accomplishments. And we are treated to another facet of her complex personality: "She had the rare ability to separate the part of her that was grieving from the part that was rational, objective, analytic," said John Farmer, a senior counsel to the 9-11 Commission.

"Flight 3407 tragedy silences Beverly Eckert, voice of 9-11" is the apt headline over Michael Daly's fine column in the New York Daily News. And he lets us know that Beverly "proved to have a unique gift" for bringing together 9-11 activists with varied political views, "bridging the differences between civilians and firefighters, liberals and conservatives, all of them hurt and angry."

Keith Olbermann of MSNBC provided an incisive and earnest report on Beverly's work, and the video clip, with footage of Beverly, contains high praise from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

An article by Charity Vogel in the Buffalo News about some of the plane crash victims has this from Beverly's sister, Karen Eckert: "[Beverly] was an extremely intelligent, competent person. When she was faced with what she faced, and saw a reason to do something, she put her many talents toward that.... But she wanted balance in her life, too. She said 'Every day is precious.'"

The New York Times obituary by Sewell Chan adds a few details to his previous article about Beverly.

13 February 2009

Beverly Eckert, 1951-2009

Dear Beverly,

Let me write you one last letter, after the many we have exchanged over the years. My fingers falter and tremble, so this may take a while, and my vision is blurring now and then. (Kleenex helps, and so will the comfort of loved ones, and time. It really is true what they say about time and broken hearts. But you know all that so well. Sadly, the relief that comes with the years is only partial.)

What does it mean that the first thing I saw when I turned on the television this morning was your face? You sometimes talked to me about omens, about signs, strange coincidences that made you struggle for an explanation. During one of our interviews for the book, you told me that years before 9-11, as you were walking in the shadow of the Twin Towers, you craned your neck and looked up at them and asked Sean if they would ever fall.

For a split second, when I saw the photograph of your face on TV this morning, I thought they were doing a story about Guantanamo. You had excitedly described to me on the phone last week that your meeting with President Obama had gone well, that you and the other family members got to voice your views, and that the president showed care and concern for your opinions and feelings. I could tell that you were exhilarated by the day's events, not just meeting the new president, but working together once again with the other members of the FSC. In a way, you told me, it was like old times. I was eager to get details about the meeting from you so I could write an article with the theme "the work goes on...."

But the TV report was not about Guantanamo. The reporter said you were one of those who died in that terrible plane crash outside of Buffalo. 

It felt like a brick had fallen on my heart. With hardly any air in my lungs I choked out a whisper to Michelle, in the next room, "Oh my God, Beverly's been killed..."

My mind raced to catch up with what I was hearing -- bad weather, no survivors, the last radio contact. The newscaster's words washed over me as I watched in a daze the footage of the burning wreckage.  Beverly, I know you're gone, but I'm not yet ready to say goodbye. We have a lot of work still to do.

We sat together for many hours of interviews, Beverly, during which I not only learned about your deep enduring love for Sean, and your tireless work to keep his memory alive after he perished. I also heard the voice of an intelligent, thoughtful, accomplished woman. You had an eye for detail, an open and active mind, and a generous heart. I knew from our earliest conversations that this would be an extraordinary book because you were an extraordinary person.

So we will be together again in the coming months, as I continue to transcribe your words onto the page. So many, many words. I know my heart will break a little over and over as I hear your living voice telling your story. And I will read your many emails and letters and articles, the long, long paper trail of your prodigious 9-11 reform efforts. And there will be the interviews with your FSC partners, people on the Hill, friends, family. So much more work to do. 

But be assured, even though all I have now are the words you left behind, No Truer Hearts will tell your story some day. You were always a careful and cautious person, even more so after 9/11. And I remember that you gave it a lot of thought when I asked if you would like to work with me in the writing of this book. One reason you agreed to go forward was that you wanted a "full and balanced" account of the FSC and the 9-11 Commission, and you felt I could do that. I have been ever humbled by your trust. I know how much this story means to you. 

Another reason was Sean. 

I know he was always in your heart. Who could imagine two lives so lovingly intertwined as yours and Sean's? Sometimes, you had told me, you could imagine him standing in a doorway in your house, arms crossed, smiling contentedly at you, and that image gave you comfort. You had told people how brave Sean had been during that final conversation, as he faced his death, giving you strength, professing his love, urging you to continue living a full, happy life. And then, after that terrible day, you continued to say goodbye to him, in large ways and small, planting some trees here, creating a scholarship there, commissioning a mural at the train station where he stood in Stamford every workday morning. 

Your life has been a testament to Sean. The love you shared carried you forward, strengthened you, inspired you. People sometimes wonder about love, but it is simple: love is the good things you do. And your love was great.

Dear Beverly, your life, your good works, your kind soul have sent out ripples far and wide. Thank you for the great honor of working with you, knowing you, becoming your friend. I will do my best to make this book a worthy memorial to Sean, as I know you wanted. And now, after this heartbreaking day, it will be as well a testament to you. 

Your tragic and inspirational  life, your enduring example of love and devotion, and the expansive richness of your soul will live on.

With tears of loss, love and admiration,

[Photo by Derek Gee, Buffalo News.]

Some coverage of Beverly Eckert online: 

An early account of the crash appears in this Buffalo News article. And here's a very nice summary of Beverly's life by Sewell Chan of the New York Times. And this Associated Press article by Devlin Barrett contains some wonderful quotes about Beverly. The Chicago Tribune's Washington Bureau assembled some evocative photos of Beverly, including one of the pastoral mural at the Stamford train station to honor Sean. A summary from the Daily News, with a couple new details.

Some of the news accounts mention that Beverly was "fragile" and that she would on occasion cry during her public appearances, especially when talking about Sean. It's true, when deep emotions arose from Beverly's heart, they clearly appeared -- in the tears in her eyes, the furrow in her brow, the break in her voice. This happened a number of times when we spoke about Sean and her reform activities. Sometimes I joined her in shedding a tear, in silence. So trust me: her shows of emotion came from deep within her, unbidden. She had, after all, a big heart. Only those who did not know Beverly, or who are cynical beyond redemption, say that she used her tears for effect. 

And another thing was clear to those who knew Beverly, or stood on the other side of an issue: there was nothing fragile about her. Yes, she was kind and sensitive, but at the center of her being was a solid steel core of conviction. I love this quote from her friend and fellow 9-11 family member, Bill Harvey: "She would never shy from the good fight or negotiate what she knew to be right." It appears at the end of a short Daily News piece.

The comments of Lee Ielpi in this Bloomberg Press article by Alex Nussbaum and David M. Levitt cut to the core of Beverly's success in her many post-9-11 endeavors. "She was an inspiration to me and so many others," said Ielpi. "She wasn't one where you were going to see her name splashed all over, but she was the type of person who was able to talk and guide people, steer them in the right direction, and stay out of the limelight." Ielpi lost his son, firefighter Jonathan Ielpi, on 9-11.