17 February 2009

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.

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