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9/11 Widow from Arizona - Donna Bird - Shares Her Story

This question is being asked a lot this week as we are approaching the 10th anniversary of 9-11.  Like many on the West Coast, I was still in bed.  After hitting the snooze button a couple times, I heard the very somber voices of Tim and Willy describing what had happened in New York.  Because those two are generally very jovial in the mornings, I thought I was listening to some kind of gag. 

But this was no gag - - I turned on the television and watched.  I called my family.  I called friends. I got myself to work so I could keep watching. I couldn’t stop watching. 

HMA has had the opportunity over the past several weeks to work with and get to know Donna Killoughey-Bird.  Donna’s husband, Gary, was in the first tower.  For her the question, “where were you when” has an entirely different response.

Donna has written a book called Nothing Will Separate Us.  She’ll be signing books on Sunday, Sept. 11 at Changing Hands.  And yes, I’d love it if you could go, but that’s not what this post is about.

It is about what I have learned from spending time with Donna.  She is kind, funny, spiritual and most important…not bitter.  Sure, she is angry that her husband is no longer around.  She is sad that her children have grown up without their father.  But, those feelings are not what define her. 

“You can be angry and have that be who you are, or you can channel that energy into something more productive and fulfilling; that’s what I’ve chosen to do,” Donna said when we first met.

She works at St. Vincent de Paul as their development director, she is actively involved with her church and with the proceeds from this book she will fund educational scholarships.

We’ve all had to deal with grief.  But unlike Donna, we have not had to live that out in the public eye.  She has done so with grace, dignity and with a smile and kind word for everyone.

She told her story to Katie Raml at ABC15, I think you’ll agree.

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio

12 Comments

  1. Alison Bailin says:

    A junior in college, I was driving/running late to a 7:30am class at Stauffer Hall when I flipped on Howard Stern. They could see it all happen from the windows in their studio. I turned it on just before tower two went down. I parked in the lot next to then-Stauffer Hall at ASU’s Main campus and hysterically cried. I was very thankful to Howard and the team that day – they stayed on the air as the entire building evacuated so that the world would be able to know exactly what was happening in real time from the mouth’s of long-time and native New Yorkers. When, a month later, Ozzie Osborn and Paul McCartney came on his show to help raise funds for the fallen, I called and donated immediately. As an almost-21 year old, that was my first time doing anything like that. My 21st birthday was exactly two weeks after 9/11. It was solemn and very sad, to be honest.

  2. I remember I was getting ready for school and my dad ran out and told us to turn on the news. When I got to school, we just watched the news in every class. All of the lesson plans were cancelled that day. When I got home, I remember every single channel on tv showing footage of the attacks. It was the first time that I can remember being glued to the tv for 24 hours. I feel like everyone was silent that day. Everyone at school, everyone at home. Everyone around me was in shock trying to grasp what exactly had happened. Such a sad day.

  3. Jeff Weigand says:

    September 11, 2001, about 9:15 a.m
    EST, I can pinpoint what I was doing. I
    was sitting in my office at 27 W. Independence
    Street in Shamokin, Penn. when I
    got an email from my cousin asking me if
    I had seen what happened.

    As a native New Yorker, born and
    raised on Long Island and literally in the
    shadows of the World Trade Center, on that
    day, like many of those across the nation we
    lost family, friends, and acquaintances.
    My cousin, who worked for Canon,
    could not be reached. We knew his territory
    was near the Trade Center, but we were
    unsure where. Fortunately for us, Kenny
    decided to take the day off and play golf.
    His brother, Michael, a volunteer firefighter,
    spent several days in the parking
    lot of Shea Stadium, on standby in case
    they were needed. On Hudson Street, just
    around the corner from the Trade Center,
    the offices of Saatchi and Saatchi, the advertising
    agency where my father used to
    work, took in debris-covered New Yorkers
    and offered them a place to stay.
    Others weren’t so lucky, J.R. Moehringer,
    in his memoir “The Tender Bar,”
    reminded me that Publicans, a bar in the
    town of Manhasset where I was born, lost
    50 patrons in the attack.

    Several months later, in the spring of
    2002, I was at my parent’s house in Scottsdale.
    I stumbled on a program entitled “Fun
    City Bowl XXX” – the 30th annual meeting
    of New York’s Finest (NYPD) and New
    York’s Bravest (FDNY) football teams.”
    For those of you unfamiliar with the
    history of the game, it started as a bar
    room challenge in 1972 and has become
    one of the largest semiprofessional football
    games in the country. The rivalry
    between the NYFD and the NYPD players
    and fans rivals that of the Army-Navy,
    USC-UCLA, and ASU-UofA and in 2002
    the game was moved to Giant Stadium
    to accommodate the 35,000 friends and
    family of the fallen.

    It was through this program that I
    learned that the NYPD lost 23 players and
    NYFD football team lost 22 of it players
    – including my friend and NYFD Bravest
    Offensive Lineman and team captain #71
    Durrell “Bronko” Pearsall.
    “Bronko” and I went to Long Island
    Lutheran High School, in Brookville, NY.
    We sat together in class, got in trouble together
    (I remember in 10th or 11th grade
    something about a golf cart, the disciplinary
    counselor, and the cross-country trail
    during a high school fund raising event)
    and we ran track together. Actually I ran;
    he threw shot put. He went on to play
    football at Marist College and CW Post
    College where upon graduating in 1992
    he followed a family tradition and became
    a NY City firefighter. Ironically his unit,
    Rescue 4, was not a Manhattan-based
    unit; they came in after the first plane
    hit. Bronko let it be known that if he was
    killed in the line of duty, he wanted his
    funeral to be at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
    True to his word of attending every fallen
    police officer and firefighter’s funeral, the
    great Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attended
    Bronko’s Funeral.

    Nearly two months later, in the tradition
    of New York City and after two terms
    as mayor, Rudolph Giuliani turned the
    reins of the city over to Michael Bloomberg
    at midnight on January 1, 2002.
    And what became of the 2002 Fun
    City Bowl? The NYPD won 10-0. In 2003,
    The Bravest defeated the Finest, for the
    first time in nine games and by the largest
    margin of history of the meeting: 35-7.

    We – rather I – will never forget.
    Writers Note: In attempting to obtain
    a photo of Bronko and me from Long Island
    Lutheran High School, in Brookville,
    NY, I learned of another classmate who
    was killed in the attacks. Mark Colaio,
    along with his brother Stephen, was an
    employee of Cantor Fitzgerald, the firm
    that lost 658 employees on 9/11.

  4. Stephanie Lough says:

    I remember waking up, walking out into the family room where my parents were watching the news. When I was growing up, we never had the TV on in the morning. The only other time I could recall watching the news in the morning was when Princess Di had passed, and then I was too little to understand, but that same feeling of “something is not right” was there.

    I don’t really recall the day in detail. As a freshman in high school, I was just starting to see the world outside of myself and becoming interested in current events. I had no idea that this event was going to change everyone’s lives. I knew this was big, but I had yet to put it in perspective. Looking back, I remember classes being disruptive, but many of my teachers turned off the TV and resumed day as usual. Not because what was happening wasn’t important, rather I think there was comfort in continuing lessons as planned.

    What I distinctly remember was the Diamondback’s winning the World Series against the Yankees a few weeks later. Being a D-Backs fan aside, it was the first time life was returning to our country, and I saw it has a sign of hope and repair. With so much attention surrounding New York, I think the World Series helped the country come together as one to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We still had our traditions and our pride, and not even a monumental tragedy could break that.

    I am amazed at the strength of so many people who lost loved ones that day. As someone fortunate enough to not have known a victim of 9/11, it is hard for me to fathom someone like Donna letting go of her anger. It is inspirational to see, and the world would be an amazing place if society as a whole could do the same.

  5. I was a freshman in college at the time, in my dorm room at NAU getting ready to go to class, when my roommate got a call from a family member with what seemed to be horrible news. I stayed to make sure everything was OK, as she turned on the TV and we saw the first tower burning.

    I stood immovable, staring in shock at the TV screen as she continued talking to whoever was on the phone. We opened our door and the sound of CNN, Fox News and every other newscast echoed down the hallway as the second plane crashed into the second tower of the World Trade Centers. People were shocked, frantic, sadden and scared at this tragic event that was unfolding in front of our eyes and forever changing the history of America.

    I did not end up going to class that morning, but having been a Graphic Design major at the time you can imagine what our next project was in our art and design classes – an expression of our feelings about this tragic day. Thankfully I did not have any friends or family that were in NYC on 9/11 but it is a time in our history that will be ingrained in my memory forever.

  6. David Landis says:

    Many folks have many stories about 9-11. Mine relates to PR. Few people outside of San Francisco know that one of the guys who said “Let’s roll,” and took Flight #93 over from the terrorists was a man by the name of Mark Bingham. He ran a very successful tech PR agency here in San Francisco called the Bingham Group (Agency). While I didn’t know him firsthand, he had a stellar reputation. In his Wikipedia entry, it says that at the very last minute he changed his flight back to San Francisco to Flight #93 to be able to make a family member’s wedding. How incredibly sad. . .but we are so grateful to you, Mark, for making the world a safer place. I’ll always remember you.

  7. Alison Bailin says:

    Thanks, David, for sharing.

  8. Howard Green says:

    Based on what I saw and what I knew the morning after having just left the site.

    Unfortunately, there was no one trapped in a pocket and my co-workers Husband didn’t make it. Also, there really wasn’t a need for blood.

    I’m pretty good through out the year, but I still get nightmares this time of year.

    I wonder to this day if the Heart Ailment I now have was caused from breathing in that crap. Doctors tell me they don’t know.

    *************************************************

    Hello Everyone,

    Thanks for all of your thoughts and prayers yesterday. I am in the city as I write this. I had to go in to help figure out how my company will get through this nightmare. 7 WTC was Salomon Brothers headquarters and after the various mergers housed many areas of Salomon Smith Barney and Citigroup. Until my very recent transfer, my office was on the 23 rd floor overlooking the Towers. I am in utter shock and disbelief that the whole area is just gone! Each floor of the towers was one acre square, 110 floors EACH! 7 WTC was about 47 floors.

    I know several people who made it out of the towers and unfortunately this morning I am finding out about several who didn’t. Luckily 7 WTC was evacuated before it fell. It took collateral damage when the Towers collapsed. My co-workers husband is trapped in a pocket in the basement of Tower 2, with others, and they have been communicating via cell phone. There are several tons of debris that have to be safely moved to get to them. We can only PRAY!

    The scene in the city is something out of a make believe Hollywood movie, but unfortunately it’s all too real. Lower Manhattan, south of Canal Street is evacuated and for all intensive purposes under martial law. No one other than emergency personnel are allowed in. I was allowed down there as a member of Citigroup’s Contingency Team. All businesses and residents have been evacuated. Two Aircraft Carrier task forces are positioned off of NYC in the harbor and F whatever’s are flying overhead. What a lot of people do not realize is that there is a lot of infrastructure under the Towers. 9 Subway lines and the PATH Train to NJ all go through those buildings. Even when the rubble is eventually cleared, the whole transportation network may still be gone!

    In my new building there is a blood donation center and there must be several hundred people lined up around the block. IF YOU CAN DONATE BLOOD PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL BLOOD BANK. If you can donate money please contact the RED CROSS. These tragic events will change the world and the way we all live. We have grown accustom to an open society which may now have to become more sheltered and paranoid. I had to walk out of the city over one of the bridges to get home yesterday. It took me six hours. As we got to the middle of the bridge we could see the carnage. All you saw was an empty skyline and more smoke and fire that anyone should ever see. People were literally freaking out! The people of NY all came together and it was nice to see people of all ages and races helping each other. Also no looting, price gouging, etc. In fact just the opposite. When push comes to shove, everyone was able to just be New Yorkers, Americans, Human Beings!! PLEASE PLEASE PRAY FOR THOSE MISSING AND TRAPPED AND DONATE BLOOD! Also, as previously noted, do not take things for granted and be careful. I am still numb from seeing my building collapse, this is just a nightmare!

    All my best, Howie

  9. Randee Rudick says:

    I remember turning on the tv to see the news. I saw this tragedy and all I could think of was that my parents were flying into JFK airport that morning. I kept trying to call the friends that they were staying with. Needless to say, I couldn’t get through.
    All I could think of was that my parents were in the middle of this. Then I realized the three hour time
    difference. My parents has been at their friend’s house for a few hours and were watching it on the news just as I was.

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