Monday, July 5, 2010

A Small Town, Hit Hard By Recent Tragedies

Lockerbie. Mortgage-backed securities. Fake charity. Father-son martyrs. Dumb jocks. We are all making the connections now, aren't we?

The Hartford Courant

October 06, 2001 | By Christopher Keating

Timmy O'Brien. Jim Geyer. Paul Talty. Terry Hatton.

I knew all of them growing up in the small Long Island village of Rockville Centre. And they all died in the World Trade Center bombing.

As the U.S. military prepares to respond to the attacks, Rockville Centre is still in stunned disbelief over the bombing that has torn apart the village and sent emotional shrapnel through more than 20 families.

This is the same community that was touched by tragedy in 1988 in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over "Lockerbie, Scotland.

My friend, John Ahern, was on that flight, coming home for Christmas to see his family. The Aherns lived on Sherman Avenue, a few blocks from where I grew up. We played basketball together in our youth, and although we saw each other less frequently as the years went by, I still remember the smile and the jump shot of the man we nicknamed "Pern."

Timmy O'Brien was a star athlete for many years, winning a basketball scholarship to attend college. We played against each other and at times on the same teams, traveling together with the 13-year-old Babe Ruth League All Stars to a championship tournament in New Jersey in 1973. I lived in the same motel with the O'Brien family in New Jersey for a week because my parents had work and family obligations that prevented them from making the long trip for the games.
O'Brien had hit it big on Wall Street, running the mortgage-backed securities desk at Cantor Fitzgerald,
the company that suffered the greatest devastation in the bombing. More than 600 Cantor employees, including O'Brien's brother-in-law, Stephen Tighe of Rockville Centre, were killed in the attack.

O'Brien had maintained his lifelong passion for sports by becoming an avid golfer, often playing with National Football League quarterback Boomer Esiason, who spoke at O'Brien's funeral.
They served together on the board of directors of the Boomer Esiason Foundation to fight cystic fibrosis, which had its offices adjacent to Cantor's on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center.

In Rockville Centre---a village with less than 30,000 residents covering about three square miles---I also played sports with Jim Geyer, the son of an insurance executive, and Paul Talty, the son of two educators. Like O'Brien and Tighe, Geyer worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. Talty was one of the New York City police officers who died in the rescue efforts. Since the tragedy, his father has been wearing an NYPD cap.

Terry Hatton, the son of a New York City firefighter, followed in his father's footsteps and rose to the level of captain. On the day of the bombing, he led nearly 30 firefighters into the burning tower, and he died in the collapse. Only one year earlier, Hatton and his rescue crew had gone to the 78th floor of 2 World Trade Center and saved 12 people who had been trapped in an elevator.

During his speech to a joint session of Congress, President Bush held up the badge of a police officer who was killed as he rushed to save others at the Trade Center. That officer, George Howard, went to my high school. Although I didn't know Howard well, I did know two members of my graduating class---Mike Murray and Pat McGuire---who are still listed as missing. Mike is shown in our yearbook, wearing his graduation tuxedo and sliding down a banister as he carried his diploma. That's how I'll remember him: as a fun-loving guy who didn't take himself too seriously.

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