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September 11, 2013

eleven tears – in memoriam to AMEX 911 victims

by Andrea O'Connell

Update: September 11, 2013

Can it be 13 12 years?  I cannot fathom the passing of so much time, but time does march on, doesn’t it?  I decided to re-post this entry to honor the families of the American Express victims, as well as all who suffered losses unimaginable.

Original Post:

For me, September often makes for a rough landing.

There is the heartbreaking reminder of 9/11; today being one of the most poignant reminders due to the passage of ten years.

It hardly seems possible that 10 years have passed.  The memories are so vivid it seems like it was yesterday our world was shattered.

September is also the month we see an increased number of hurricanes  here in South Florida.

And, September is my birthday month, which I won’t talk about, even though I just did.  Getting older means I have to remember a new number (I often forget how old I am).

World Headquarters of American Express – The Aftermath of 911


September 11, 2001

Eleven Tears Memorial at American Express World Headquarters

It was a Tuesday.

Monday night I stayed very late at work.  It was already September 11th (after midnight) when I left work at the American Express Service Center building in Plantation, Florida.

I was working late with Wayne, an Instructional Design colleague of  mine in Operations Training, at American Express. Wayne and I were putting the finishing touches on our Diversity Appreciation Display, which was to be situated in the huge open atrium space, at the center of the building. (Note about Diversity at American Express:  The company didn’t just “talk” about the importance of diversity, it “walked the walk” in a way that I have yet to see in any other company I’ve since worked for.  They supported diverse employee networks; WIN (Women’s Industry Network, BEN (Black Employee Network), SALT &  CHAI (Christian and Jewish employee networks), and quite a few more.)

Every year, the Diversity Team would dedicate one week to spotlight the importance of diversity at American Express.  The 2001 event, however, was going to be a scaled down version of our usual diversity celebration.

This year we were going to have four smaller events (not one big yearly event).  The four small events were to focus on different sections of the globe, and the impact that American Express had on that part of the world.

The kick-off of our celebration of the Middle East region of the globe was slated to open at 11:00 a.m., on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Because I had worked so late the night before, ensuring that everything was ready for our Middle Eastern celebration, I did not plan on getting to work until 10:00 a.m.

At about 9:00 a.m. that morning, Wayne called my home and I could tell something was very wrong, but I didn’t know what.  He asked if we were going to cancel our celebration.  I didn’t understand what he meant – what he was talking about.  Then he asked if I had television or radio on.  I didn’t.  “Turn the TV on,” he urged.  I did.

American Express World Headquarters

The first plane had just hit and I watched the aftermath.  I knew American Express had a huge office in NYC, with thousands of employees.  I wasn’t certain if our Headquarters was located in one or both of the World Trade Center buildings.  Later I realized that the American Express building was a building adjacent to the towers, and every employee was accounted for.  Sadly, that turned out not to be true.

Although the American Express building stood very near the towers, it suffered damages that looked like bite marks in the side of the building, resulting from the explosions.   The building was structurally sound and could be saved.

When the first plane hit, a few American Express employees were out in the street, just getting to work and suffered serious injuries as a result of the falling debris.  These employees nearly lost their lives, but by the grace of God, survived.

There were American Express employees in one of the towers.   

September 11, 2001 is seared in my memory.  I will never forget how I felt, where I was, or how so many of us cried together as we saw the second plane hit.

The American Express company, which I worked for nearly seven years, handled the horrendous event and aftermath with incredible class.  They have done such a good job to remember the employees who were victims.

Pictured below is the stunning tribute that stands in the lobby of the Headquarters building.  I have never seen it, but have read the countless comments describing how remarkable it is.  The architect’s name is Ken Smith.

Here are additional photos of the memorial.  http://www.flickr.com/photos/rejuvesite/sets/72157603291655578/

I was not able to find pictures of all the eleven victims, instead I used a picture of their memorial stone.

I would have loved to include all the victims who died that day.  Instead, I am honoring the 11 employees who perished that day, as well as the family members they left behind.

There were more than 4,000 American Express employees working at the corporate headquarters in NYC, these 11 worked for the American Express Corporate Travel office, located on the 94th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower.

The Eleven Tears – American Express Employees:

  1. Paul Zois
  2. Sigrid Wiswe
  3. Lorretta Vero
  4. Benito Valentin
  5. Karen Renda
  6. Anne Ransom
  7. Lisa Kearney-Griffin
  8. Bridget Esposito
  9. Lucy Crifasi
  10. Gennady Boyarsky
  11. Yvonne Bonomo

The Diversity celebration that was to start on September 11, 2011, was not “celebrated.”  We kept a movie that the created, available for employees, and some photos were left up, that was about it.

It was too emotionally draining to think about a celebration.  But, we also didn’t want to discount what we’d planned –  it was hardly a celebration of a culture.

We knew the terrorists were of Middle Eastern descent, as were some of our employees.  We could not very well show any distaste for that part of the world  – that was not a reasonable thing to do, obviously.  In the end, it didn’t matter, the sadness and our mourning was not about hating a counrty of people, it was about trying to understand how a small group of human beings could / would attack us as they did.

I think every American felt like they were collectively  kicked behind the knees that day.  It’s difficult to get up from the floor, though we will and we have.

Prokopios “Paul” Zois “Sense of humor”

Sigrid Wiswe “Loved NY Harbor”

Loretta Vero “Fiercely loyal” Credit: Blatherfrombrooklyn

Benito Valentin “Osito” (Little Bear)

Karen Renda “An Angel”

Ann Ransom “The heart”

Lisa Kearney-Griffin “Boisterous & friendly”

Bridget Esposito “Big heart” credit: blatherfrombrooklyn

Lucy Crifasi “Exceptionally Nurturing”

Gennady Boyarsky “No Problem” was too big

Yvonne Bonomo – “Endless Energy”

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