I am alive and so is my family, which means I don't have the same rights to September 11 grief as some of my co-workers at Marsh and AON. I know this and though each year memories fade of colleagues lost that day and I lose contact with survivors permanently scarred by the events, it is hard to let go.
Each year I try.
For those who don't know, my life-long career in workers’ compensation was greatly affected by the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. The two companies where I spent the majority of my workers’ compensation cost-containment career were located in the World Trade Center buildings. My former employer and workers’ compensation leviathan, Marsh, was on floors 93 through 100 in the North Tower, 1 World Trade Center. This was precisely at the point of American Airlines Flight 11 impact, 8:46 a.m. My other company, AON, a colossal insurance brokerage and risk management firm, for whom I led the workers’ compensation cost containment practice in the mid-1990’s, was also located at the site, on floors 98 through 105 in 2 World Trade Center, the South Tower. It was struck on floors 77 through 85 by United Flight 175 at 9:03 a.m. and collapsed first at 9:59 a.m.
Marsh, then called Marsh & McLennan, was the first major broker to institutionalize the practice of workers’ compensation cost containment. I led the development effort and Harry Taback was my boss (photo at right), a huge proponent of providing the service to their clients. He was lost that day and left behind three daughters and a wife. Several years later, I had moved from Marsh to AON and Richard Keane from Wethersfield, CT, took my place running Marsh’s worker’ compensation cost containment practice. He occupied my old office at Marsh’s Hartford, CT, location but traveled into NYC for a meeting in Tower 1 Sept. 11 and was killed. My fortune at his expense was similar to colleague Pamela Newman's, an account executive at AON who was lucky enough to be traveling OUT of NYC Sept. 11, 2001. She subsequently became the defacto collector of lists of those who were safe, those who were not, and those who were still missing as reports rolled in that horrible day and the days that followed. These events and near misses have left me with the chilling remembrance that it could have been me. It continually reminds me that today is really the only day we have.
So great were both companies' losses in 2011 that I came out of retirement; so many of the risk management experts died that day, working on the affected floors that additional help was needed by those of us who had left the company prior to that day. I still have not been able to return to retirement. My missed retirement is nothing though compared to Richard's death. He left behind five sons and a wife.
I don't make plans on Sept. 11 because I feel I need to keep the day sacred, to remember the victims. Several years ago, when my hometown Storrs, CT, wanted to have its annual Town Parade and Fair that day, I objected and another date was chosen. Each year, I spend the anniversary indoors, watching TV coverage, usually all day, and often wonder who else, affected on the margins as I was, does the same thing. In 11 years, survivors remarry, children grow up, companies merge, employees leave – it is a whole new landscape out there and many people in our industry do not know the history of colleagues that were lost before they entered the field. But it is as if those directly touched by the attacks have a tattoo of 9/11 on their souls – a permanent mark.
I have a tribute book published by The New York Times, Portraits of Grief 9/11/01, which lists each victim like a Who's Who of Tragedy. There's something about that book; it sits there and I can't get rid of it, but it's not something one digs into often, either. I even thought I would give away the book last year – it had been 10 years, after all. But I looked inside and just couldn't throw it away or donate it because that didn't seem right. The book’s publisher, the New York Times, was one of our favorite clients; we all worked together on a workers' compensation consulting project for the New York Times. Bob Ferris (photo above left) had a soft spot for the New York Times account. Bob was one of my consultants at AON Management Institute and I remember driving with him once on our way to the Trade Center for a meeting down Henry Hudson Parkway on the west side of Manhattan because our Manhattan office had been recently relocated to the World Trade Center. Rumor had it that the rent was cheap because of the prior bombings at that location. It was a long drive and we could see the towers in the distance. They were massive, and as we got closer to them we had a casual conversation about "Wow, they are soo big. What if there was ever a fire in there?" We were thinking “fire” as the worst case scenario but we never really thought it could happen because, well, so many safety measures are in place, right? But Bob was killed and is in that book. This kind of magical logic that keeps me tied to my grief. I cannot help myself. And, frankly, I'm not sure if I should give it up because it would be like throwing what little I have left of them away, too.
Author Rebecca Shafer, JD, President of Amaxx Risk Solutions, Inc. is a national expert in the field of workers compensation. She is a writer, speaker, and publisher. Her expertise is working with employers to reduce workers compensation costs, and her clients include airlines, healthcare, printing/publishing, pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and manufacturing. She is the author of the #1 selling book on cost containment, Workers Compensation Management Program: Reduce Costs 20% to 50%. Contact: RShafer@ReduceYourWorkersComp.com.
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