As we were flying to Laguardia Friday morning, our plane passed to the
east of Manhattan. It was a normal flight, except for the flight attendant
singing America the Beautiful as we passed by the island. I could see the
beautiful skyline in the sunlight, except, or course, part was missing.
The same is true for those who knew Valerie.
If Valerie had died in a car accident September 11, her family and friends
would have felt a terrible loss. The circumstances of her death both intensified
the anguish felt by those who knew her and also made it more than a private
tragedy. However, this service should help us remember Valerie as the individual
- friend, sister, mother, aunt and daughter. I also attended two other
services. Friday afternoon, Marsh & McLennan had a beautiful service
in St. Patrick's Cathedral for the almost 300 employees it lost, and Lydia
organized a wonderful service in Brooklyn Saturday afternoon. There was,
however, a sense of the general tragedy hanging over both services - at
St. Patrick's, the enormity of the number of lives lost in just one company,
and in Brooklyn, the knowledge that people in the neighborhood viewed the
burning towers from their rooftops. I hope that we will not dwell on September
11 today, but on Valerie's life.
On Friday and Saturday I had a chance to talk to some of Valerie's colleagues from the past 15 years. Several of us have also received emails from her colleagues. All sang her praises, about her boundless energy and enthusiasm, her interest in achieving goals rather than advancing herself, her ability to break down barriers between people, and her extraordinary ability to counsel people to help them solve personal and professional problems.
Valerie died just days after her 57th birthday. However, my most vivid memories of Valerie are from childhood. I was born 2 years after Valerie, then 2 years later Barbara was born, then 2 years after that Kathleen was born. Our family moved around a lot, so the four of us were pretty close. Even as a eight year old, Valerie took on a lot of responsibility watching after the rest of us, reading stories to her younger siblings, and so forth. Valerie was mature for her age, and I was very shy and seemingly slow for my age, so the contrast was greater than our age difference. The guidance Valerie gave me as a child was repeated for many other people throughout her life. Valerie also demonstrated at an early age the drive and intelligence that people always noticed -- by the time she graduated from high school, she was valedictorian despite having attended 12 different school systems. At that point she wanted to go to medical school. She did not travel that road, instead getting married and having children before finishing college. I believe that part of the reason for that choice, in addition to the usual reasons, is that perhaps she needed a break from having so much responsibility. She did not have the typical American childhood, yet even after she eventually got on track to achieving outstanding success in her career, she always retained a childish element -- as many of us would be reminded when we heard her maniacal laughter.
At the service Saturday in Brooklyn, our nephew Michael referred to Valerie as the family Buddha. If you visit temples in Asia, you will see many different types of Buddhas, and people seeking help and guidance for many different challenges. Valerie had characteristics of several of the Buddhas I have seen, but the one that is most like her is the Laughing Buddha. In looking at photos of our last big family gathering last June, in the shadows of the World Trade Center, I see many photos of the laughing Buddha Valerie, as well as the dancing Buddha Valerie. We will all miss her.