29 May 2009

Play, Create, Love, Work: Beverly Eckert, before the towers fell

Beverly Ann Eckert was born this day 58 years ago, and it became apparent as she ran, hopped and skipped through her youth that she was an exceptional girl who loved to play. She grew up in Eggertsville, NY, a few miles from Buffalo. She attended St. Benedict's School from kindergarten to grade 8. Beverly had a brother, Raymond, and three sisters: Susan, Karen and Margaret (Margot). And they played, oh, how they played. But Beverly was not just one of the pack. She stood out, even then. Beverly could "could out-bike, out-dodgeball, and out-hide-and-seek the neighborhood gang," as Margot wrote in her poem, "Strong Women." The young Beverly was active, creative and gregarious -- jumping rope, building forts, dressing up like a cowgirl and getting swept up in the Mickey Mouse Club fad as a Mouseketeer.

Beverly Ann Eckert attended Sacred Heart Academy, and teachers and friends saw she had an artist's eye, a writer's ear, and the passionate heart of a true romantic. She was fascinated by the idea of love. During her high school years, Beverly's creativity and social life blossomed. At SHA, an all-girl Catholic school, Bev wrote poetry, drew pictures, participated in drama, played basketball and took a turn at student politics. Her friends and teachers noticed she had a certain flair, a talent, a drive. What Beverly wanted to accomplish, she did. And like so many young people rushing toward adulthood, Bev wanted to fall in love. One of her best friends, Kathleen DeLaney, described how Bev eagerly counted down the days to her fifteenth birthday, and on May 31, 1966 joyously announced "I can date!"

Then she went to the dance that changed her life. In the fall of 1967, Bev met Sean Rooney in a crowded Buffalo high school gym. Sean was a thin young man with thick, curly, dark hair and a bright smile that warmed those around him. Soon they began to date, but it was not a fairy-tale romance the whole time. There were rough patches, as on any road, more like the parental troubles of Romeo and Juliet than the glass slipper of Cinderella. When Bev's parents said she could not see Sean, she did not listen. And upon her 18th birthday, in 1969, Beverly left home, went to work and went through some hard times so she could follow her heart. "It was a real struggle to make ends meet," she had said. "Okay, so the right to date whomever you want isn't exactly in the Constitution," she added, "but ever since that time I haven't been afraid of adversity or the consequences... of standing up for what I believe in."

Beverly started her studies as an art major in 1969 at SUNY College at Buffalo (now known as Buffalo State). She and Sean moved in together two years later, and as their love and commitment grew they bought a two-family house together in 1973. In 1976, after seven years of full-time work and part-time studies Bev got her Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree. In addition to her coursework, she had put in long hours at AM&A's Department Store, Mother's Bakery Restaurant, and the Sign of the Steer Restaurant and Bar, where Sean also worked. For a couple years after graduation Beverly worked as a potter, selling her wares as she could. Then began her career in the world of insurance with a job at Travelers Insurance, first in Buffalo in 1978, and then at branches in Massachusetts.

On June 14, 1980, in a simple ceremony in the back yard of her sister's home in East Aurora, NY, Beverly Ann Eckert married Sean P. Rooney. The high school sweethearts had become college loves and then wife and husband. They were so close in life and in the minds of their relatives and friends that they became SeanandBev, one word, one love, one life. Oh, such a love. They never had children because all they wanted in the world was each other. They were partners. He cooked, she cleaned, they both worked on the houses they lived in. And at the end of a hard day, Sean would walk through the door and say to Bev, "Where's my hug." And Bev would remember: "Sean was a good hugger." Food was always important, and in the kitchen Sean was in charge while Bev offered a hand and a glass of wine, whichever was needed. After a good meal, they would sit together and talk quietly and be thankful for the life they had made for themselves.

In her working life Beverly was strong and determined, pushing firmly against a culture of ingrained sexism. She said that women were not permitted in the corporate dining room of Travellers when she first arrived at the company. "What I experienced throughout my insurance career was life as a minority, an outsider, often the only female at a meeting or in the room." Despite this, Beverly rose through the ranks, becoming a vice president and manager at General Reinsurance. "I can say I had a successful career," she said, "but it was seldom comfortable. I had to respect myself in an environment that seemed to want me to feel otherwise, just like when I was poor."

For their 50th birthdays in the year 2001, they did something special. Beverly and Sean gave each other the gift of travel. She chose Morocco for her birthday, and he chose Vermont for his. But no matter where they were, it was in each others' company that they were the most fully contented. Beverly said once to me how happy they had become with their lives that last summer they spent together in their Stamford, CT home. Beverly said she was sitting with Sean at the back door one evening, drinking wine and watching the fireflies come out. And Sean said that if he'd died right then, it wouldn't be so bad, because he'd lived such a good and full life.

Happy birthday, Beverly.

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