18 December 2009

A Touching Memorial to a Wonderful Life

Beverly Eckert touched many lives. And especially in this first holiday season without her, I'm struck by how she was able to bring so much to so many.

First and last, she was an eternally devoted wife to Sean Rooney. To the members of her family, she was loving and joyful and constant. Outside of this close family circle, the luckiest ones were invited into the warmth of her friendship, the generosity of her soul, the kindness of her heart. Those who worked at her side -- feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, improving her neighborhood, tutoring children, making the country safer -- were impressed by her talent, diligence and determination. If Beverly joined in the effort, things got done. Others only knew of her, that she had lost the love of her life on 9/11, worked through her grief to make the country safer, and then died herself in a plane that plummeted from icy skies near the places in Buffalo where, during the course of her wonderful life, she had played, learned, fallen in love and reunited regularly with her loved ones for such occasions as holidays, weddings, births and deaths.

One person who was touched by Beverly is Anne Goslin, who was one of the principal organizers of a modest and touching event October 31st during which Beverly's memory was celebrated and set into stone. Anne had at first known Beverly only casually as a neighbor in the Glenbrook section of Stamford. But at one meeting of the neighborhood association Beverly spoke about her work for Habitat for Humanity, and encouraged Anne and others to join her on a project in Slidell, Louisiana. During their brief days hammering and sawing and raising the walls and roof of a fine wooden shed, warm bonds were established among the neighbors who were now part of a construction team. "We had such a good time together," Anne recalled recently. Beverly and Anne kept in closer contact thereafter, and on one occasion Anne was touched when Beverly had invited her and her husband for dinner, and she prepared everything from scratch.

After the shock and pain of Beverly's death last February gave way to warm memories of her life, many people whose lives she touched decided there should be some fitting ways to remember her. Employees of the City of Stamford and local businessmen with whom Beverly worked on a number of neighborhood projects came together and created a memorial plaque set into a block of granite. The plaque matched the one Beverly had erected to remember Sean at the Glenbrook train station where he used to depart for his job in the city.

On a cool but pleasant October morning, then, relatives, friends, neighbors and others gathered at the station as part of a city-wide "Make a Difference Day," of cleaning up, recycling, beautifying. They also came to remember a woman who lived a wonderful life and in some way touched them all.

Anne spoke first, recalling those qualities of Beverly's that would be on display if she were taking part in this "Make a Difference Day." She would have been involved in organizing things, Anne said, setting the course, guiding the effort. But Beverly was never one to sit back and let others do the heavy lifting. As Anne had seen firsthand in the hot Louisiana sun, Beverly was more than willing to get her hands dirty. She would have been there, picking up trash, spreading mulch, planting daffodil bulbs. Recalling the way she had met Beverly, and the ease with which Beverly gathered others to herself, Anne said that Beverly would also have made some sort of meaningful personal connection with someone at the event. Finally, after all the work was done, Anne said Beverly would probably suggest a convivial and memorable gathering, perhaps at Monster B's, a lively watering hole hard by the Glenbrook station.

That was Beverly: the organizer, the worker bee, the easy friend, the center of a celebration.

The city's mayor, Dannel P. Malloy recalled Beverly as well, and recounted her legacy of service and selflessness. State Representative Carlo Leone was there. Beverly's family of course helped with the ceremony, as did other members of the neighborhood association. Karen Eckert said the family had set up memorial benches in the town, in places that were special to Beverly. Some 4o lives that Beverly had touched, in large and small ways, gathered, celebrated a life lived well, and dedicated a plaque that now sits like a bookend opposite the station's first memorial plaque. They all sang "On the Street Where You Live," because it was a special song to Beverly and Sean. They planted dozens of daffodil bulbs, which would bloom early in spring and bring color and joy and perhaps touch the lives of those who passed by and saw them in the sun, saw their yellow faces look up to the sky, surrounding the bookend plaques commemorating bookend lives.

16 October 2009

Some airline safety measures sought by Flight 3407 families win passage in House

Beverly Eckert often said that she was working hard for 9/11 reform measures because her husband, Sean, did not make it home on September 11th, but she wanted to make sure "someone else's 'Sean' gets to go home" because America would be safer. After Beverly was killed in the crash of Flight 3407, family members of those lost, including Beverly's sisters Karen Eckert and Susan Bourque, vowed to find out why the plane fell so suddenly out of the sky, and how future crashes could be prevented. Karen and Susan have been working hard so that someone's "Beverly" lands safely.

That hope came a step closer to reality on Oct. 14, when the House passed by a wide margin HR 3371, a bill aimed at fixing some of the problems that led not only to the crash of Flight 3407, but of other regional airline disasters. The bill includes provisions to improve pilot training, reduce pilot fatigue, and improve pilot training and licensing records.

Beverly's sisters and other Flight 3407 family members were surprised when the announcement came that the bill was coming up for a vote, and a bit worried that some pilot-training provisions had been altered due to pressure from flight schools. According to an article by Jerry Zremski in the Buffalo News:
But the behind-the-scenes addition of that new language — included at the request of a powerful Florida lawmaker whose district includes a prominent flight school — didn't exactly thrill those who lost loved ones in the February crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center.

"This is kind of out of the blue," said Susan Bourque, whose sister, Beverly Eckert, was among the 50 people who died in the crash.
When Karen Eckert learned of the impending House vote, she rushed to Washington so that she could witness it along with other Flight 3407 family members. As she sat in the gallery high above the House chamber and watched the votes in favor mount, she let a photo of her sister Beverly dangle over the railing, so that Beverly could see the legislative victory, and so that the lawmakers could see Beverly.

11 September 2009

"...death has no power over our hearts..."

On this solemn day of remembrance, only Beverly's words will suffice.

One year before she was killed, Beverly was back in Buffalo, celebrating the life of Sean Rooney, and her love for him, surrounded by family and friends, on his birthday, Feb. 15, 2008. A few weeks later, she put together the simple and moving account of that day that appears below. (Beverly posted it in Sean Rooney's Guest Book at Legacy.com.) She also described how she and Sean's loved ones remembered him on the sixth anniversary of the attacks, in September 2007.

On this September 11th, we remember them both, and all the others. And her simple words are eloquent testament to a remarkable women, who, even with her passing, is able to shine a bright light on the fleeting nature of life, and the powerful permanence of love.


March 09, 2008

Hi Sean, it’s me.

I know it was a while ago, but I thought I’d tell you all about what we did on your birthday this year.

We actually had three celebrations. The first one was on your actual birthday, the 15th. Susan, Bill and I went to dinner at the Roycroft Inn. It was cold and snowy, just like that winter you worked there, but it was warm inside by the fireplace, and we had a great meal. They had live jazz in the lounge, so after dinner we stayed to listen. All evening we talked, laughed, and most of all, we remembered. It felt like there were four of us there that evening, not just three.

The next day Karen, Mike and I we went to the Neumann Center at UB because the 4:30 Mass there was dedicated to you. The priest, Father Pat, greeted us when we walked in and asked a few questions about you. A couple of times during the mass, he mentioned how you died, but he also mentioned your love of wine and food and how our families often gathered to cook in your memory. So right in the middle of mass, I invited him to join us over at Karen and Mike’s after mass. He brought a bottle of Brunnello. By the way, I made your ‘Chicken Alfredo’ that night and it turned out great. Yes, hon, I’ve learned to cook a little…

The next day, we were back at the Procknals. This time both of our families gathered, and we made ravioli - tray after tray, with three pots of water boiling on the stove to cook it all. We had three banquet tables pushed together to accommodate us all. And we thought we had the head count right, but when we all sat down, we discovered there was one extra place setting, just to my right. So I went and got a photo of you, propped it up there, and poured you some wine. All through dinner, I couldn’t stop smiling - the food, the wine, everyone sitting around the table talking and laughing, and you next to me where you belong.

It was a birthday we’ll all remember. It was a lot like this past 9/11 anniversary, a rollercoaster mix of happy and sad. The commemoration started with a ceremony at the Red Cross Headquarters. Your mom and Cynthia did readings. It seemed only fitting that it was pouring rain through the whole ceremony. For one of the musical selections, they played “Only Time” by Enya. I guess I dropped something while we were standing there listening. My sister told me she touched my arm to hand it back, but I never saw nor felt her. I must have been wherever you are.

The next day, your mom and I went to lunch. Afterward we drove over to your old house on Dorchester Avenue. The basketball hoop is still there, over the garage door. We laughed about the time you backed the car into the chimney, and the way you dismantled your ‘51 MG all over the driveway one year and then rebuilt it. Your mom pointed out the window on the third floor that was your bedroom. Then we just sat there in the car, quietly looking at the house, remembering.

After I dropped Rosemary off, I went to the Amherst 9/11 Memorial Grove with Carol and Kamil. One of the three trees dedicated to you there has lost a lot of its branches. But there are trees in other places in Stamford and Buffalo that are still doing OK. People leave flowers and notes at them. Still.

The next day there was a ceremony in the morning at the waterfront downtown. They asked a family member to speak, so I said a few words. Then, we held a car-wash fund-raiser at your old grammar school, to raise money for your memorial scholarship. It was raining and there were kids with hoses, so needless to say we all got soaked, but we had a great time. The kids worked hard, and our families pitched in and helped, too. All together, we raised over $800 dollars. By the way, one of your old eighth-grade classmates is a teacher there now, and she told me you were the cutest guy in the class and all the girls had a crush on you. Then Sister Gail, the current principal, located a copy of your school transcript. We had to laugh - you had high grades, but you didn’t do too well in the deportment categories.

After the car wash, our families went to Cole’s on Elmwood to get something to eat. There was a TV in the bar, and the local evening news was on. They were broadcasting segments about the 9/11 events of the day. We could see that they were showing footage of us, so we were yelling and pointing. On one segment, they showed a photo of you, so we all cheered. I can’t imagine what the other bar patrons were thinking of our raucous reaction to the 9/11 news stories.

At the end of the broadcast, we raised our voices and our glasses: “To Sean!”

It was a good day.

Something I’ve come to realize over the past six and a half years, Sean, is that death has no power over our hearts - neither yours, nor ours. I want you to know how much you are loved, and remembered.

You are with us, still.

All my love, all my life.

[Photo of the view out of Beverly and Sean's kitchen window by Anthony Toth]

10 September 2009

Voices of September 11th honors the efforts Beverly Eckert with its Building Bridges Award

The influential 9/11 advocacy and support group that Beverly Eckert co-founded honored her memory with its annual Building Bridges award in a presentation in New York City today. Two of Beverly's sisters, Karen Eckert and Sue Bourque, accepted the award on her behalf.

Just weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Beverly and Mary Fetchet, another Connecticut resident, who lost her son Brad in the attacks, established Voices of September 11th. The fledgling organization was run on a shoestring by Beverly, Mary and a few others mainly to providing family members and others affected by the attacks with information about such things as the recovery of remains, financial and medical assistance, the victims compensation fund and counseling. As the needs of the 9/11 community expanded, so did the staff, membership and services of FOS11. It now has about 7,000 members and a wide-ranging agenda which includes the 9/11 Living Memorial project, reaching out to victims of terrorism at home and abroad, advocating for government reform, and providing a number of services to its members.

Beverly's effective advocacy lives on in the efforts of her sisters

Intelligent, capable, energetic and determined -- some of the words used to describe the Eckert sisters and explain their successes, and reason enough to not stand in their way once they decide on a course of action. Beverly, Susan, Margaret and Karen individually and working together have done impressive things, and a recent Associated Press article by Carolyn Thompson weaves together the story of Beverly's activism for 9/11 reform and the work done by Sue Bourque and Karen Eckert in the cause of airline safety.

Sue and Karen noted that the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 on Feb. 12 that took Beverly from them did not "silence Beverly's voice or spirit," according to Thompson.

"If anything, she would want us to have her voice ... I want her voice to resonate," Karen Eckert said.

It already has in the way it has opened doors of senators and representatives to 3407 families. Many knew Beverly, or knew of her.

Her voice resonates in the minds of her sisters, too: whenever they present their fact- and solution-driven case for better pilot training and hiring practices, fatigue management and closer government oversight of the airline industry.

"We have an agenda. The one thing we knew is we can't just go there and say `please help us because we lost our loved ones,'" Karen Eckert said.

"We knew we had to be organized," Bourque said, recalling Beverly's ability to boil down issues to talking points which she could take to lawmakers.

Recently, Sue sent a message to a number of Beverly's friends, providing more details the the work she and Karen and others have been doing to promote better airline safety:

Beverly’s own courage and determination showed us the way. After the loss of Sean, she made a commitment to work for changes that would keep a horror such as the events of 9/11 from ever happening again. Because of her efforts and those of other 9/11 Family members, our country is a safer place.

We mirror her commitment today in another critical area: to improve airline safety for all. We are working to bring about changes in the airline industry that will prevent fatigued, undertrained and underpaid pilots from entering the cockpit. Accomplishing that is our commitment to our sister and her legacy.

05 August 2009

Beverly's hope for justice gradually coming to fruition

The debate about the terrorism detainees at Guantanamo these days is not about whether they will be brought to justice, but when and where. Beverly Eckert would have relished this progress. As noted in an earlier blog entry, her final trip to Washington, DC, was to urge President Obama to close the detention facility and to bring suspects such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad to trial in the US. With a new president, there was optimism that new policies would bring justice at long last. Under the Bush administration, the handling of the detainees was marred by incompetence, incoherence, and illegality, delaying or destroying any chance for justice, and blackening the reputation of America, whose leaders in earlier times took pride in adhering to the rule of law.

Political opponents of President Obama have seized upon his swift detainee justice initiative by successfully whipping up grassroots hysteria opposing the plan. The detainee issue, as noted in the previous blog entry, has been made one of those which divides 9/11 family members rather than unite them. Just as among the general population, for the large part it pits 9/11 family members who support of the president against those who oppose him. In many respects, then, this is a debate not about security or justice but about politics. There is no question that if President Bush had proposed the same plan, the debate would flip to the opposite political pole, with Republicans touting "swift justice" and Democrats engaging in "terrorists in our backyard" fear-mongering. However, to be fair, even now there are many Democrats who have been swept up by the visceral but unfounded fear that putting people who plotted attacks or gave material support into high-security prisons is more dangerous than, say keeping mass murderers there, which is already the case. Just the vague term "foreign terrorist" expectedly inspires greater fear than even "mass murderer." To gauge how politically motivated the feverish opposition to Obama's plan for bringing terrorists to justice, notice how those who most loudly denounce the plan raised not a whimper of dissent against the location of Timothy McVeigh's incarceration.

According to yesterday's Associated Press article by Devlin Barrett, the current range of possible venues for trial and incarceration include facilities in New York, Alexandria, VA, and federal facilities in the Midwest, including Fort Leavenworth, KN. Even if Beverly were still alive to join the debate and urge those wavering to try the suspects here and now, it is clear that some detainees will never be brought to justice because of the grave errors of the Bush administration. In her letter to President Obama, Beverly wrote this would be the biggest injustice.

04 August 2009

9/11 family members united on some issues, divided on others

After Sept. 11, 2001, you would have been hard-pressed to find someone who had lost a family member that day, of any political persuasion, who did not want to find out how and why the attacks took place and why their loved ones died. In the same way, there was and is widespread support among this diverse community, bound by the pain and loss of that day, for remembering the victims.

But once other questions began to arise, such as how to prevent terrorist attacks, and what to do with those accused of terrorism, the views of the 9/11 family members diverged -- widely. Beverly Eckert had fought for a number of causes after she lost her beloved husband, Sean. Perhaps she was best known for her role as a member of the Family Steering Committee, which was instrumental in establishing the 9/11 Commission and implementing some of the commission's most important recommendations. But Beverly was also strong supporter of other causes, including the creation of the National 9/11 Memorial, skyscraper safety, and airline security. These causes had wide support among the 9/11 community.

Beverly also supported closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and putting the terrorism detainees held there on trial in the US. Other 9/11 family members disagreed, and an article in today's Washington Post highlights the diversity of these views. One of the family members put it well, in this nutshell:

"There is a diverse set of opinions about closing Guantanamo, about having the military tribunals versus having federal trials in the United States, about the death penalty versus life if convicted," said Adele Welty, whose son, Timothy, was a New York firefighter killed on Sept. 11. "If you would take any group in the population who were not family members, you would have an equally diverse set of opinions."

Someone Beverly had met through the group September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Valerie Lucznikowska, said President Obama's efforts to bring the terrorism suspects to justice in the US was a good idea. On the other hand, Kristen Breitweiser, another member of the Family Steering Committee, had become disillusioned with the president's approach, according to the article. She said Obama's failure to include family members in the deliberations on Guantanamo "translates to me like they really don't care."

The 9/11 family members achieved the peak of their political influence when their unity coincided with support from powerful allies in Washington, among the media, and from average Americans from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. But as the issues at hand divide rather than unite; as the memory of 9/11 begins to fade from public consciousness; and as powerful constituencies and players are facing off against each other rather than standing should-to-shoulder, it is difficult to see how the 9/11 family members will ever be as effective as they once were.

21 July 2009

The 'Real ID' debate turns surreal

The op-ed page of the Washington Post is nothing if not provocative. This morning's tiny little piece signed by four of the staunchest Republican congressmen on the Hill provides a case in point. (The honorable members are: Lamar Smith, Jim Sensenbrenner, Peter King and Darrel Issa.) It shows that no amount of unadulterated spin and invarnished hypocrisy will keep a well-connected contributor from sharing his or her views in a venue supposedly draped in professionalism and journalistic integrity.

And if Beverly had read this prime example of political piffle, she would be scowling and stamping her feet in frustration and anger, itching to write a reasoned rebuttal.

How did the signers of this piece, titled "A Dangerous Retreat on 'Real ID,'" try to lead us trusting readers astray? Let me count me count the ways. For those who follow the language of power (whether in politics, business, academia or entertainment), the recipe for this sort of "fudge" is familiar. For the rest, I offer a small lesson in political fudge-making, to use a relatively polite euphemism.

1) First, protect your narrow, partisan, contentious issue under the umbrella of a noble cause. And so, the congressmen begin thusly:

When the independent, bipartisan Sept. 11 commission issued its report in July 2004, an alarming fact was emphasized: Terrorists need valid identification to board an airplane.

[Ahh, why not use the widely respected "independent, bipartisan" umbrella of the Sept. 11 commission to give cover to the highly partisan pro-Real ID cause? Never mind that Sensenbrenner nearly singlehandedly derailed a monumental piece of legislation implementing many of the commission's recommendations. (I believe Beverly's hypocrisy-meter, which was unfailing, would be spinning wildly over that one. She was sending almost daily emails to me expressing her dismay back in the fall and winter of 2004 when Sensenbrenner and Duncan Hunter were spearheading the Republican effort to sink 9/11 reform legislation.) Oh, and the honorable members may be "alarmed" to learn that everyone needs valid ID to get on a plane, not just terrorists, and this fact was not "emphasized" by the report, just noted, along with many, many other facts. But back to the fudge-making recipe...]

2) Take a quote from a respected source (say, p. 184 of the 9/11 Commission Report), and use it totally out of context to apparently support your claims.

The commission asserted that "for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons."

[Yes, but... this quote refers to international travel documents, such as passports and visas, not drivers licenses, which are at the core of the Real ID program. Oops.]

3) Give your issue a pure pedigree, even when it doesn't have one. And say it had wide support, when it didn't.

Congress subsequently passed the Real ID Act, which was quickly signed into law by President George W. Bush. ... Despite the fact that a unanimous Senate -- including then-Sen Barak Obama -- passed the Real ID Act, several senators recently introduced legislation known as the Pass ID Act, which promises to return the nation to pre-Sept. 11 dangers.

[The op-ed makes it sound like Real ID flowed directly out of the 9/11 commission, when in fact the truth is much more complicated. In fact, the signers take us back to the old-style partisan politics which helped enable the many pre-9-11 mistakes in the US, and which sought to squash an independent commission to investigate the attacks, and later to implement any politically unappetizing reforms recommended by the commission. Like the USA Patriot Act, the Real ID Act was a partisan creation, because it implemented immigration reforms held dear well before 9-11 by a core of mainly Republican members of congress. Sensenbrenner, et al, want to make it seem now that Real ID was a result of the 9/11 commission, which it wasn't. In fact, he originally opposed the commission, and then was willing to scuttle legislation implementing many important commission reforms when the bill failed to include his pet anti-illegal immigrant provisions. Readers can check their own hypcrisy-meters now. Oh, and about the "unanimous Senate" thing? Real ID was attached to a bill authorizing funding of the Iraq war, what politicians in power do when they want to force their opponents to swallow something they oppose, and when they want to pass legislation that would fail on its own. So much for "unanimous."]

No one is saying that the system of immigration in this country is not broken and needs fixing. Beverly herself supported reforms in this area. But the way to get things done is through a reasoned, accurate presentation of the facts, and a truly bipartisan effort at consensus, not by presenting stale political fudge and pretending it's something sweet and tasty.

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.

27 May 2009

From high school hallway-sailing "early bird" to distinguished alumna: Beverly Eckert, SHA '69

This was supposed to be a very special year in Beverly Eckert's long relationship with her high school alma mater, Buffalo's Sacred Heart Academy. She had been busy helping to organize her Class of 1969's fortieth reunion, planned for June. And on top of that, in the winter of 2008, she learned that she was selected to receive Sacred Heart's highest alumna honor at a fundraising dinner in May. The announcement appeared in the winter issue of the school's alumni magazine, the Cordecho.

But in her typically low-key and selfless manner, Beverly did not crow about the award. Instead, she talked with friends at Christmastime about paying for several tables at the dinner so she could have friends and family surrounding her, and at the same time offer support to SHA financially. Her friend, Kathleen DeLaney, said Beverly "just thought going to the fundraiser would be the thing to do," and that she "really wanted to have all of us there for a great time." It was only later, while they were discussing reunion plans one evening, that Beverly mentioned the award to Kathleen in passing.

But the fiery crash of Flight 3407 on a cold February night changed everything.

Beverly did indeed come back to Sacred Heart in 2009, but not to receive an award or to gladly greet reunion attendees. Instead, she was carried back to a reception at her old school after a memorial service in the hearts of her friends and family and classmates after the memorial service. She came back to those long hallways in yearbook photos and in the deeply felt words of her poems. She hovered over an alma mater washed in grief at her loss and basking in gratitude for her kind, ebullient and generous life.

Kathleen DeLaney brought Beverly back, too, in a wonderful reminiscence in the spring 2009 Cordecho, published on the occasion of Beverly's award. In the article we are treated to the vivid vision of a teenage Beverly, always one of the "early-birds" at school, "sailing through the side door of SHA," her arms flailing and then skidding to a stop near the top of the stairs as she yells to Kathleen: "DeLaney. Hey, Delaney! I'm fifteen today. I can date!" And there is bighearted Beverly, being "an equaly opportunity friend" in a girls' school where exclusive cliques were often the rule. Or Beverly's early plunge into politics, pushing classmate Gay Gambin to run for class president, and then running her campaign, complete with "strategically located tape recorders around the school playing, Vote for Gay, Vote for Gay on a constant, subliminal loop."

And so of course Beverly was there, at the Transit Valley Country Club on May 14, at the "Spirit of Sacred Heart Academy" Awards Dinner. Her friends and relatives had gathered once again, to share memories and honor her many achievments. Kathleen remembered Beverly as she examined her "giant glass of Pinot Noir" for "tell-tale dishwashing spots...something Beverly always did... (always the waitress!)" 

When Beverly's sisters, Karen Eckert and Susan Bourque, went to the lectern to receive the award on Beverly's behalf, there was a standing ovation. Beverly's brother Ray was there as well, and their cousin Clem Eckert also received an award. Speaking to a reporter, Karen recalled how Beverly wanted to make sure that her departed classmate were remembered during the planned reunion of the Class of '69 with a white rose. At the June event, there will be a white rose for Beverly, too. Susan said "We're carrying on her legacy. It was all about making a difference. We hope we can fill her shoes. We hope everyone takes from her those lessons that an ordinary person can really make a difference."

A short video clip from WIVB appears here.

A musical remembrance for Beverly on her birthday

This is the first May 29th when Beverly's many relatives and friends cannot wish her a happy birthday in person. Birthdays were special for Beverly. They offered her a chance be with loved ones, to raise a glass, to eat something sweet, and unleash her creative energies. She loved to plan, to surprise, to make gatherings unique and memorable. She reveled in being in the center of preparations, the source of inspiring party themes, songs, poems.

Before 9/11, these parties were purely joyous. After she lost Sean, Beverly held celebrations of his and her birthdays that were overcast with the pall of loss but brightened with the memories of better days. But as the years passed, she was beginning to smile more.

And now her friends and family carry on her tradition of celebrating life and love and the company of those dear to us.

Beverly's dear friend, Nada Radulovich, who played her cello so movingly at the memorial service in Stamford, will perform at a recital May 29 in Beverly's honor. She will be joined by pianist Cullan Bryant in a program featuring works by De Falla, Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin. It will be held at 2 p.m. at the Yonkers Public Library, Grinton I. Will Branch, 1500 Central Park Ave., Yonkers 10710. Admission is free.

12 May 2009

Flight 3407: A new tragedy breeds a new set of loved ones seeking answers and solutions

Two of Beverly Eckert's sisters are among the loved ones of victims of the Flight 3407 crash who are in Washington, DC, to attend hearings and to lobby legislators. According to an article in the Buffalo News, Karen Eckert and Susan Bourque are attending hearings of the National Transportation and Safety Board during which witnesses will be presenting testimony aimed at discovering the cause of the crash. And Beverly's sisters will walk some of the same hard marble hallways on Captitol Hill that she so often trod during her 9/11 reform efforts. In both cases, the loved ones are trying to make sure a tragedy is not repeated. 

29 April 2009

Three Friends Recalled the Best of Beverly on Larry King's Show

I have just come across a transcript of the show Larry King did on Feb. 13, 2009, the day after the Buffalo plane crash, in which he spoke to friends of some of the victims. Here is the portion with warm reminiscences by three of Beverly's oldest friends: Kathleen Delaney, Carol Bauda and Kathy Matthews.

[Kathleen Delaney has kindly pointed out some errors in the original transcript. They are noted in brackets below. Also, Carol Bauda's last name was misspelled in the original transcript, but is now corrected here.]

KING: An extraordinary lady died on that flight. She was Beverly Eckert. Three of her friends join us now from Buffalo -- Kathleen Delaney, a very close friend of the victim. Carol Bauda, who was one of her oldest friends. They met in kindergarten. And Kathy Matthews, as well.

Beverly was -- how extraordinary, she became an active -- advocate for the victims after 9/11.



BEVERLY ECKERT, 9/11 WIDOW: It's hard to turn around and see the whole in the skyline where my husband's building used to be. If this bill doesn't pass, I don't think I'll ever -- I don't think I'll ever be able to go back there. I think I'll be too ashamed.


KING: All right, Kathleen DeLaney, tell us about Beverly.

What was she like?

KATHLEEN DELANEY, KNEW CRASH VICTIM BEVERLY ECKERT: Well, I had the fortune of sitting in front of Beverly pretty much my entire high school career because we were alphabetically arranged. And she was -- she was just always a lot of fun to be around. She instigated a lot of pranks. But she was just -- she was just a wonderful person who knew her mind and -- which I think is one of the things that this high school that we attended, Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, really, really promoted.

We -- this was an all girls' school. And at the time when we were in school, it was just a good, solid place for young women who may not have had the opportunity had they been in another type of a school to develop their leadership roles.

KING: Carol, you go...


KING: Carol, you go back to kindergarten right?

CAROL BAUDA, KNEW CRASH VICTIM BEVERLY ECKERT: Yes, we went to grammar school together, kindergarten, high school. And we were thick as thieves right along. And we got into mischief together. And Bev was just so much fun. She had so much energy and she was very creative. People don't know that she was an excellent artist, painter and potter and just so creative. We had a lot of fun together. Very close.

KING: Kathy Mathews, how well did you know her?

KATHLEEN MATHEWS, KNEW CRASH VICTIM BEVERLY ECKERT: I knew her through the four years at Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart and some years beyond into adulthood. I saw her, you know, fairly recently, as well.

I knew her as one of the bright lights in our class. She was the person who drew a lot of friends to her. And she was -- in a girls' school, sometimes it could be cliquey and different. But Bev was one of the people who was sort of an equal opportunity friend. A lot of people truly got to know her well and we think of her fondly.

KING: She just met with President Obama a week ago. He paid tribute to her today.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, tragic events such as these remind us of the fragility of life and the value of every single day. One person who understood that well was Beverly Eckert, who was on that flight and who I met with just a few days ago.

Now, you see, Beverly lost her husband on 9/11 and became a tireless advocate for those families whose lives were forever changed on that September day. And in keeping with that passionate commitment, she was on her way to Buffalo to mark what would have been her husband's birthday and launch a scholarship in his memory.

So she was an inspiration to me and to so many others. And I pray that her family finds peace and comfort in the hard days ahead.


KING: Kathleen, are you surprised that she became the advocate she became?

[DELANEY instead of MATHEWS]: Oh, no. As a matter of fact, when I was going through some things today, I found a clipping from 1967. She won a Voice of Democracy Contest here. And I think I -- I must not have won because that's why I kept it.

But I talked to Bev Wednesday night. She was coming into town for Sean's scholarship. And she was due to have had dinner at our house tonight. And I asked her about meeting Obama. And she said to -- she immediately told me, I'll tell you all about it Friday night. But she let me know that she was scanning a napkin that she had pinched from underneath his water bottle. And this morning -- this morning I had that e-mail that she had sent off to me. And there it was -- the presidential seal on a napkin.

So she...

KING: Carol, did she...

MATHEWS: That was the type of -- she loved saving things.

KING: Carol, did she have children?

BAUDA: No. She did not have children, but she had nephews and a niece. And so they were very close to her. She was the fun aunt that they all loved to be with.

KING: And her life had changed.

She had a boyfriend now, didn't she?

BAUDA: Yes, uh-huh.

KING: Were they planning...

BAUDA: He is a wonderful guy.

KING: Were they planning to get married? BAUDA: Oh, not at this point, I don't think. But, you know, he's just -- he was very, you know, a very loving person to her and very understanding of the things she had to go through for what she had to do politically.

MATHEWS: She was trying to move on with her life as best she could while always, always revering Sean's legacy.

KING: Any funeral plans that you know of, ladies?

BAUDA: Not at this point.


KING: Well, this is the hardest thing in the world, not just to lose a relative, but to lose a friend.

Quickly, we have -- what will you remember the most, Kathleen?

[DELANEY, not MATHEWS]: Oh, just -- just Bev. I mean, she's -- she was just all present. And one of the things that really struck me, especially after Sean died, was just how close she brought all of us together. She was always concerned for us. And when we were trying to make calls today, she was the one who had the phone numbers, so we were lost.

KING: Carol, what will you remember?

BAUDA: Her boundless energy. It's just amazing. Every time I spoke with her, she was flying off one place or another, on some committee, this committee, all over. And whether it was the scholarship fund or memorials, even in her own hometown or here, it was just amazing, her energy level.

KING: And, Kathy, what will you remember the most?

[MATHEWS, not DELANEY: I'll remember her quick intellect and her creativeness and mostly I'm going to remember how steadfastly she pursued justice for the victims and the families from 9/11.

KING: Yes.

She was an amazing woman.

Thank you all, ladies.

We appreciate this.

27 April 2009

Family and Friends Plant a Tree for Beverly

On a warm and sunny spring day in Stamford, some 50 family, friends and well-wishers of Beverly Eckert gathered to remember, to dedicate, to say words of praise. Some earth was turned, the roots of a Princeton elm were nestled in a new home, and those gathered took some quiet time to recall a life whose wide-reaching, generous branches touched so many.

Sarah Lipman of the Stamford Advocate reported on some of the comments. The principal of the school where Beverly had volunteered as a tutor, Stark Elementary, Mary Savage, said the school was "proud and honored" to have had Beverly involved in the life of the school's community. Susan Bourque, one of Beverly's sisters, said, "Beverly would have loved this tree. It is a symbol of beauty, strength, character and renewal -- like our sister, Beverly." John DaRosa of the Jackie Robinson Park of Fame group likened Beverly's community contributions to those of the park's namesake, saying everyone should follow Jackie's and Beverly's example of helping their fellow man.

[Beverly's friend, Nada Radulovich, holds a shovel in the photo above; Susan Bourque appears above right. Photos: Chris Preovolos]

20 April 2009

A tree grows in Stamford: Remembering Beverly on Arbor Day

The Advocate of Stamford reports that an elm tree will be planted this Arbor Day, April 24, in Jackie Robinson Park to honor the memory of Beverly Eckert. John DaRosa is a member of the group which cares for the park. His group first worked with Beverly when a flag and flagpole honoring 9/11 victims and families was donated to the park by Woodmen of the World, a fraternal organization. He said his group had been thinking of ways to honor Beverly's memory, and decided to use the planting of the tree to accomplish this. The tree is being donated by the Stamford Tree Foundation.

At the 11 a.m. ceremony on Friday, a tree will be planted for a woman who loved to enjoy the outdoors, who planted a number of trees in the memory of her husband, Sean, and who worked tirelessly to make make the world a safer place.

This is one of the ways we remember. 

10 April 2009

Beverly's letter to Obama: A simple and direct call for justice

There are several bizarre and unfounded notions about Beverly Eckert's views and actions floating around in cyberspace. I have read, for example, that at her Feb. 6 meeting with President Obama, she was supposed to have asked him to establish another 9/11 commission to finish the job left undone by the original one. Like other examples of such internet hogwash, this one can be easily discredited by perusing the facts. Beverly never called for another investigation once the 9/11 commission released its final report. Instead, she and her colleagues worked tirelessly to have the report's recommendations implemented. Two of the main 9/11-related issues which did occupy her time were supporting the work of the WMD Commission and pressing for the closure of the Guantanamo dention facilities, ending the military commission tribunals, and bringing the terror suspects to trial.

After her meeting with Obama, Beverly gave me a detailed account of the meeting, its genesis, and a copy of the letter she handed to one of the president's aides at the meeting. Here it is, simple and direct:

February 6, 2009

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

RE: Justice Not Vengeance

Dear Mr. President,

On 9/11, my husband was killed by terrorists. The self-confessed mastermind of the plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has been in US custody for several years. Along with other 9/11 families, I want to see him, and his alleged co-conspirators, face their accusers in a court of law. I fervently hope there is independent, irrefutable, corroborating evidence that can be used by the prosecution to achieve legitimate convictions. But I have a sickening fear that the over-zealous actions of US officials, through use of torture and other illegal tactics, have tainted the evidence by which those responsible for 9/11 would otherwise be convicted. If that proves to be the case, it would be the ultimate, unspeakable injustice.

When confronted with defendants accused of crimes against humanity on the scale of September 11th, the depth of our nation’s commitment to the principle of justice is severely tested. I believe, Mr. President, that under your moral guidance and with your profound respect for the rule of law, America can pass this test.

There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. I believe that you have the courage to take the difficult but necessary steps that will allow the rule of law to finally take its course. To this end, I ask that you release the Guantanamo detainees against whom there are no prosecutable charges and bring the rest to trial on American soil. I beg you to proceed with urgency and determination where others have faltered. Let justice, not vengeance, at long last be served.

Respectfully yours,

Beverly Eckert

Widow of Sean Rooney, WTC

26 March 2009

NTSB investigation of Fight 3407 crash focuses on flight crew training, performance; public hearings slated for May in DC

The National Transportation and Safety Board reported yesterday that its continuing investigation of the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 outside Buffalo found that while there was "some" icing , it did not affect the plane's performance, and that flight data recorder analysis seemed to indicate that the pilot's actions after a stall warning set the plane on its fatal course.

The board also announced that it had voted to hold a public hearing May 12-14 at the NTSB Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Washington, DC. “The tragedy of flight 3407 is the deadliest transportation accident in the United States in more than 7 years,” said Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. “The circumstances of the crash have raised several issues that go well beyond the widely discussed matter of airframe icing, and we will explore these issues in our investigative fact-finding hearing.” The other issues, according to the NTSB statement, include "cold weather operations, sterile cockpit rules, crew experience, fatigue management, and stall recovery training."

According to the preliminary NTSB analysis, the aircraft's de-icing system was probably active, and a stall warning and protection system activated when the plane's speed and angle of attack indicated a stall may be imminent. (A stall is when a plane loses lift because its nose is too high and speed too low. The way to prevent a stall is to drop the nose and increase speed.) After the stall warning, the flight data shows that the pilot pulled back on the controls, raising the plane's nose -- the opposite of the proper reaction. The plane then stalled, rolled and crashed in Clarence Center, NY, killing all on board and one on the ground.

An Associate Press article called the hearing "unusual," because only two such hearings have been held in the past 12 years: "a 2002 hearing into the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in a New York City residential neighborhood just two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and a 1997 hearing on TWA Flight 800, which broke apart off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., after a fuel tank explosion, killing all 230 people aboard."

25 March 2009

Beverly was part of a large 9/11 community, united in grief and committed to action

Out of the horror and loss of the 9/11 attacks, there arose a varied and vibrant community. Its core consists mainly of survivors, family members and friends of victims, first-responders and others touched by the events of that September day. This community -- the 9/11 community -- created a number of groups and organizations to deal with the issues they confronted, from skyscraper safety, to airline security, to the creation of memorials, counseling, financial assistance, and government reform. 

Beverly became a leader in the 9/11 community, taking the initiative on a number of fronts. She also was generous with her time in supporting the work of  9/11 groups with which she was not directly involved. 

I have just come across a tribute to Beverly which appears on the home page of the September 11th Families Association. In it, Lee Ielpi describes why Beverly was such a valued and effective voice in the 9/11 community: "Beverly had a beautiful way of steering the families in the right direction. A calming force to keep a constructive dialogue in the face of tremendous emotion."

In the academic world, one expression that is used to denote such phenomena as the various 9/11 groups is "civil society." It's what happens when private individuals (as opposed to businesses or governments) join together in common cause around some issue or group of interests. No Truer Hearts will tell the story of how powerful and persuasive a grassroots movement can be.

17 March 2009

Beverly's nautical adventure: a restful and regenerative interlude

In the all-too-short time she was with us, Beverly Eckert seemed to live many lives. One of them was as first-mate, galley helper, and Scrabble master on the wistfully named catamaran "Neverland."

Once the the bulk of the 9/11 reform legislation was passed, she made a concerted effort to get out of her "comfort zone" by setting sail for long voyages with her newfound captain/friend, Shawn Monks. The harrowing and exhausting roller-coaster of Beverly's lobbying work had taken a physical and emotional toll, and she took to the sea to rest, refresh and just forget the stress and toil she had taken on after the death of her husband.

Part of life on the water seems to be the frequent and easy making of new friends. I recently happened upon the web site of sailor and motivational speaker Neal Peterson, who, along with his wife, Darlene, had met Shawn and Beverly as they sailed down the Intercoastal Waterway. Neal's tribute to Beverly is a touching reminder that there was so much more to her life than trips to Washington and interviews with Tom Brokaw. Of course, I will describe this restful, but also exciting period of Beverly's life in the book, because it was when she began to return to being the Beverly Eckert whose eyes were more often bright with joy, whose smile shone more regularly as warm as the Caribbean sun.

16 March 2009

Beverly's final trip to Washington: a persistent patriot asking for "justice, not vengeance"

When Beverly Eckert decided to do something, it got done. In my article for the History News Network about her visit with President Obama, this was one aspect of her character that I wanted to highlight: her persistence and focus. She was among a small group of 9/11 family members who closely followed how al-Qaeda suspects were being brought to justice (or not). And Beverly made sure that her voice was heard regarding, for example, the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, even at times when the Bush administration preferred to push aside critics of its policies.

Another quality Beverly had in abundance was patriotism. Not the blind, flag-waving sort, but the deep, committed and knowledgeable kind. For her, love of country meant not merely putting a bumper sticker on your car, but knowing the Constitution and demanding that it be upheld. It also meant being an active citizen. If nothing else, Beverly Eckert was the most active of citizens.

As she was waiting for her flight from Washington, Beverly basked in the afterglow of a successful meeting to which not only her 9/11 sisters-in-arms from past political battles were invited, but also family members who opposed President Obama's policies and plans. “Having a president who is willing to meet ordinary citizens like us,” said Eckert, “and make himself available for questioning even from those who were in opposition to his agenda made me very proud to be an American.”

Freedom. To speak, to debate, to disagree. That was the flag that Beverly was happy to wave, the flag of freedom.

14 March 2009

Beverly Eckert's view of 9/11 truth was based on a rational, critical, common-sense worldview

Followers of the so-called "9/11 truth movement" like to invent conspiracies and portray activists like Beverly as their allies. While some 9/11 survivors and family members do actually cross the line from the real world to the make-believe land of this fringe movement, Beverly Eckert never did. She had a clear-eyed, rational view of the world in which real terrorists hijacked real airplanes, crashed them, and caused unimaginable mayhem and destruction. Along the way there was also a long, sad trail of official incompetence, ignorance and duplicity. But Beverly avoided association with people who smelled of conspiracy theories, whether they were touting a book, film, or website. 

Although she and other members of the Family Steering Committee were critical of the 9-11 Commission many times as it carried out its work, once the report was issued Beverly embraced it as the best outcome that could be expected, considering the compromises needed along the way. She was skeptical of dodgy official excuses, yes; but was accepting of rational explanations based on hard evidence and common sense. This article about Beverly at counterknowledge.com gets it right, and appears in a blog devoted to debunking the "truthers" and other purveyors of pop-culture piffle. And here is another, on the screwloosechange blog, along the same lines. 

In many public statements, and in interviews with me, Beverly expressed frustration with officials who stonewalled or lied. But she was equally adamant about constructing a 9/11 truth based on evidence, not conjecture or fantasy. 

And after her death, the wild-eyed conspirators continued to have a field day, attributing the plane crash to sinister government designs, for example. Another thread of "truth movement" fiction involves Beverly's meeting with President Obama just days before her death. According to this groundless speculation, she had a secret request to make of the president: establish a new 9/11 commission to uncover the "truths" left buried by the original one. Beverly gave me a detailed account of her participation in the meeting, and her sole pleas to the president were to close the Guantanamo detainee facilities and to bring the 9/11 attack suspects to trial in the US. 

On Monday, an article I wrote about the meeting will appear on the History News Network site. And in due course I'll publish in this blog a copy of Beverly's letter to the president. Documents such as these are the real basis of truth.

13 March 2009

Artists of western New York raising funds for Flight 3407 memorial in Clarence with new CD

A group of musical artists from western New York has created a song, "Love Knows No Boundaries," to commemorate the victims of Flight 3407, honor their loved ones, and thank the first responders. Proceeds from the CD will go toward a memorial in the town of Clarence. The song will debut at a performance on March 19 at the Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Williamsville, NY. For more information, and a link to a brief preview of the song, visit loveknowsnoboundaries.org. 

11 March 2009

Beverly memories online: Songs for Sean on the Sonic Memorial Project

For all its many faults, the Internet can be a great tool for teaching, remembering and reaching out. Beverly's desire to leave behind her memories and a record of her post-9/11 activities has resulted in small caches of treasure online.

One of these is an audio clip of Beverly talking about songs that Sean loved or were "part of the story of his life." To surprise him on his 50th birthday, Beverly gave a list of songs to her sister to burn onto a CD. In the online audio clip, Beverly talks us through parts of the CD, doing a passable rendition of the opening track, "Come Softly to Me" by the Fleetwoods. You can hear the lightness and the love in her voice when she describes her husband's reaction on hearing the first song. "And I remember when we first played it for Sean, you know, when he got the CD, the smile on his face when he heard it..."

But Beverly never shied away from discussing the difficult times in her life, and one of these was the beginning of her long relationship with Sean. Another track on the gift CD was "Town Without Pity" by Gene Pitney. "When you're young and so in love as we," the song begins, "and bewildered by the world we see, why do people hurt us so? Only those in love would know what a town without pity can do." Beverly recalled that she and Sean were 16 when they met. "Nobody thought it could possibly last. The adults of the place gave us quite a hard time." But as in much of her life, there was triumph and vindication after adversity. "And we were right, because we stayed together for 34 years."

To listen to the audio clip, visit the archive page of the Sonic Memorial Project, which was established by National Public Radio. Type "Eckert" into the search box and the link to Beverly's clip will appear (after clicking the "Go" button).

09 March 2009

Beverly recalled as a generous, kind soul in Stamford memorial service

Beverly had told me about her recent volunteer activities, tutoring and building, but in this Lisa Chamoff article I learned for the first time that helping the poor and homeless years ago were also among Beverly's kind and generous acts.

At the memorial service held on Saturday in Stamford, Julie Jochim said she had met Beverly 20 years ago in a Salvation Army soup kitchen, according to the article. And when the modest facilities of the soup kitchen fell short of the need, Beverly made batches of lasagna and meatloaf in her own kitchen. On a cold December, Beverly brought sleeping bags, warm clothing and other items to some homeless people seeking shelter under an I-95 overpass in Stamford. "We will always remember Beverly for these and the other quiet, unpretentious acts of caring and kindness that flowed from her so naturally," Jochim said. "She touched so many lives with her gentle goodness."

And here is a brief video segment of the service, with mention of Beverly's Habitat for Humanity work, and a clip of the Julia A. Stark Elementary School's students singing "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow."

05 March 2009

Inspired words for an inspiring woman: From Beverly's memorial service in Buffalo

The memorial service in Stamford on February 21 helped Beverly's relatives and friends remember and celebrate a life beautifully lived, with the help of soulfully performed music and heartfelt words. Now everyone can be carried by the inspired words spoken by some of Beverly's relatives, with full texts appearing on the family's memorial web site.

Beverly's sister, Margot, wrote "Strong Woman," a sparkling and warm poem showing Beverly's many sides, her many endeavors and accomplishments through the years. Here is the first verse.
My little girl sister
could out bike, out dodge ball, and out hide and seek the
neighborhood gang,
fort building, tree climbing, cowboy hat and Cisco Kidding,
mouseketeering, red wagoneering
jump roping, hop scotching,
Playground pal, was my little girl sister.
Ray Eckert, Beverly's brother, read a  passage written by Martin Luther King, Jr.
If a man or a woman happens to be 36 years old, as I happen to be,
and some great truth stands before the door of their life,
some great opportunity to stand up for what is right and that which is just,
and he or she refuses to stand up because of a desire to live a little longer,
or he or she is afraid to lose a job.
They may go on and live to be 80,
and the cessation of breathing in their life
is merely the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.
We die when we refuse to stand up for that which is right.
We die when we refuse to take a stand for that which is true.
So we are going to stand up right here,
Letting the world know we are determined to be free.
The eulogy was delivered by Bill Bourque, Beverly's brother-in-law. For family members, it reminded them of happier times, before the day that horribly changed her life. And for those of us who only knew the "activist Beverly," the tales of outings and projects and loving family connections made us smile and realize there was so much more to Beverly's life than trips to Washington, vigils and interviews.
When she first met Sean, Sean's younger brother Ben asked Sean to "make her go away". Since this was 40 plus years ago and Ben was only four at the time, we have not held this against him. Fortunately, Beverly didn’t go away. If there is anything that best describes her, it is loyalty to family and friends. She loved her nieces and nephews as if they were her own children. She followed their successes and their struggles and talked about them often. She broadened our children’s horizons with trips to New York City and Boston; to Thanksgiving Day parades and the Freedom Trail. ..to Faneuil Hall and to Central Park. We all knew that if you visited Beverly and Sean you better get a good night's sleep. You would be up early. No sitting around. A long, strenuous day was ahead. But we had fun... great fun.

A unanimous House resolves: The US will be "forever grateful" for Beverly's service

The House of Representatives yesterday voted 419 to 0 to approve Resolution 201 to recognize the service of Beverly Eckert to the nation, and in particular to survivors and families of victims of the 9/11 attacks. (Twelve House members did not vote on the resolution.)

"We have lost an inspiring and tenacious woman in Beverly," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, the resolution's sponsor. "We must continue to honor her memory and her accomplishment, and carry on her mission."

The resolution noted that Beverly "was instrumental in the development and growth" of Voices of September 11th, which she co-founded with Mary Fetchet. The two women were co-chairs of the group until about early 2003, when Beverly resigned her leadership position.  "Voices" has thousands of members, and provides information, support and advocacy for 9/11 survivors and families of the victims. "Beverly Eckert worked admirably with the 110th Congress," the resolution continues, "and was a key proponent in the final passage of the 'Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007.'" 

The text of the resolution appears in the Connecticut Post article by Peter Urban.

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.