Buffalo Crash Kills Sept. 11 Widow Who Became Family Advocate
Since I'm sure our lurking opposition will try to seize this moment and cry "Troofer idiots suggest Buffalo plane crash was a conspiracy!" I might as well state that I am NOT submitting this story to imply that Beverly Eckert was murdered. I'm submitting it because it certainly does fall under the category of 9/11-related news. -kam
By Alex Nussbaum and David M. Levitt
Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- The jets that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, made Beverly Eckert a widow and transformed her life from busy insurance executive to an activist who took on the president, the Pentagon and Congress.
Eight years after the terror attacks killed her husband, Aon Corp. vice-president Sean Rooney, Eckert, 57, died in last night’s crash of a Continental Airlines Inc. commuter plane approaching Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The snowy wreck killed 48 other passengers and one person in the house it hit.
Eckert, of Stamford, Connecticut, was among a group of Sept. 11 survivors who met President Barack Obama in the White House a week ago to discuss U.S. treatment of terror suspects. She was returning to Buffalo, her hometown, to present a scholarship in her husband’s honor at his alma mater, Canisius High School, said school president John Knight.
“There’s just a lot of sadness in all of Buffalo right now,” Knight said today in a telephone interview. “She was a lovely woman, a person who really wanted to take a tragedy that she experienced and the country experienced and turn something positive out of it.”
Eckert, an insurance executive at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, fashioned herself into a lobbyist after her husband’s death and co-chaired the group Voices of September 11. With other relatives of those killed, she advocated formation of the U.S. 9/11 Commission that investigated the attacks and pushed for changes in U.S. intelligence practices.
‘State of Shock’
“We’re just in a state of shock,” said Monica Gabrielle, a friend whose husband, Aon insurance broker Richard Gabrielle, died in the World Trade Center south tower with Rooney. Eckert, with Gabrielle, sat on the 9/11 Commission’s family steering committee.
Eckert also was traveling to Buffalo to celebrate what would have been her husband’s 58th birthday, Obama said at a news conference today.
“She was an inspiration to me and so many others,” the president said.
Eckert preferred behind-the-scenes conversations to the limelight, said Lee Ielpi of Long Island, New York, father of firefighter victim Jonathan Ielpi and a co-founder of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, across Liberty Street from Ground Zero.
“She wasn’t one where you were going to see her name splashed all over, but she was the type of person who was able to talk and guide people, steer them in the right direction, and stay out of the limelight,” Ielpi said in a phone interview.
Eckert didn’t shrink from controversy. In 2003, she joined a rally against the coming Iraq War. In December that year, she penned an editorial in USA Today, explaining her decision to refuse payment from the government fund for Sept. 11 victim families. The payment would have cost her right to sue airlines whose planes were hijacked, which she saw as a way to discover what went wrong, she wrote.
“My husband’s life was priceless, and I will not let his death be meaningless,” she wrote. “ My silence cannot be bought.”
Eckert and Ielpi worked together on the Coalition of 9/11 Families, a steering group of survivors’ organizations that lobbied the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to make the memorial the centerpiece of the trade center’s redevelopment.
“Beverly was that shining star,” Ielpi said. “Every time we had a meeting, I was so thankful to see her because she had such a beautiful presence about herself.
“She wasn’t demanding. She was sincere. She knew the right thing to do all the time. It was stunning to have her there.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Nussbaum in New York firstname.lastname@example.org; David M. Levitt in New York at email@example.com
Last Updated: February 13, 2009 13:33 EST