Feature writing

Special feature

9/11 Ten Years On: The Survivors – The widows

The Times

September 3, 2011


Ten years have passed since September 11, 2001, but what has happened to some of the people caught up in that momentous day? In this special feature, we meet the survivors, such as the dust-covered bank teller and the businessman whose images came to symbolise New York’s remarkable spirit.

We speak to the retired fireman who went to the site to help and ended up standing next to President Bush, and to an injured young woman and the marshal who carried her from the ruins of the twin towersBrian Clark and Stanley Praimnath recount their escape from the southern tower, two of only four survivors from above the point of impact. Howard W. Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, reveals the emotional cost of losing 658 employees, including his brother, and four widows describe grieving for their husbands.

Vivid, shocking, upsetting, inspiring: their stories embody a day that remains impossible to forget. 


Claudia Gerbasi Ruggiere Donovan, 42, Ann Haynes, 49, Pattie Carrington, 44, and Julia Collins Lindner, 49, lost their husbands on September 11. Claudia was married to Bart Ruggiere, who worked on the 105th floor of the northern tower as an energy trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. Ann was married to Ward Haynes, a derivatives broker at Cantor who sat next to Bart. Pattie’s husband was Jeremy “Caz” Carrington, an interest rate swap trader at Cantor. Julia was married to Tom Collins, managing director at Sandler O’Neill & Partners, on the 104th floor of the southern tower. The women became friends in July 2002, call themselves the Widows’ Club, and in 2006 published a book together, Love You, Mean It

Claudia “I would have been more bitter had I not met these women. We’ve been able to be brutally honest with one another. If I had said to my mother, ‘I can’t cope with another day of this,’ she would have panicked.”

Julia “We met other September 11 widows, but the four of us just clicked. Our husbands were the same guy, in different bodies, with their boisterous personalities. Everyone wanted to hang out with them; they loved pretty women, children, life.”

Pattie “That morning Caz forgot his work pass and came back to the apartment. I still think if only he’d discovered his pass was missing a little later, the delay might have meant he lived. I heard what had happened at work. I tried to call him. I went outside and saw smoke in the distance from the towers. I deliberately didn’t watch TV. To this day, I’ve seen very few images of it.”

Julia “They found Tommy’s body, which is unusual, but they wouldn’t let me see him – I begged but they said, ‘Remember him as he was.’ I feel like he almost made it out. I got his briefcase, computer, chequebook, everything. I keep it all in a chest. I haven’t made peace with not seeing him, but I feel the luckiest of the unlucky. My three friends here didn’t get ‘bodies’. People say, ‘At least you had a funeral; closure.’ But I couldn’t accept he was dead. I woke up one morning and it was like he was spooning me, and he whispered into my ear, ‘I’m not with you physically, but I’m with you every day.’”

Ann “Before Ward had left for work that morning he had brought our daughter, Elizabeth, in for a kiss and said, ‘This is our little angel.’ As the morning went on, friends came over. One of the children mistook one man from the back for Ward, and my heart stopped when they said, ‘Daddy.’ I didn’t accept something bad was happening. I washed his clothes in the machine, defiantly, thinking, ‘He’s coming home.’”

Claudia “Bart called me twice that morning. I thought he was pranking. He said, ‘A plane hit our building.’ He thought it was a two- seater, 35 floors below. He said, ‘We’re going to get out of here. We gotta go.’ We always said, ‘I love you,’ at the end of every call. But he hung up – if we hadn’t had such a good marriage, that could have sent me over the edge later on. My brother-in-law called. I said it was all fine and he said, ‘It isn’t.’ Then I watched TV. I tried Bart’s desk phone, cellphone… Nothing. When the northern tower came down, I started screaming. I know he called 911. There’s a tape of him asking, ‘What’s happening? Are rescuers on their way? We can’t get out.’ I can’t listen to it. I don’t want the last I hear of him to be his panicked voice. I imagined him creating peace with himself in his last moments by having a Macallan whisky at [northern tower restaurant] Windows on the World.”

Julia “We all had nightmares. Did they suffer? We all agreed they wouldn’t jump. They believed they would get out. I feel Tommy got out, or almost got out, then the building came down. Maybe he rode it like a skier.”

Pattie “I didn’t immediately realise the weight of what had happened that day. I’m a happy, uncynical person. People were looking at me with protective expressions. I couldn’t accept Caz was dead for a long time. At the memorial service, I turned to my father and asked, ‘Why are they acting like it’s a funeral?’”

Ann “I made the mistake of reading about the body parts rescue workers found. I was like a moth to the flame and got more and more upset. Ward’s co-workers and I came up with the idea they had gone into a conference room believing they would be fine, but the smoke overcame them and they lay down and succumbed. I can live with that, not pain and suffering.”

Claudia “I got Bart’s American Express card returned, charred. Eventually, I got a knock at the door saying some remains had been found and they were at the medical examiner’s office. Then more of Bart was discovered.”

Pattie “Nothing of Caz has been found. I expect advances in technology will mean something will eventually. I’ll be ready for that knock at the door. I can’t say I’m any more at peace the widows without a grave than I would be with one. I still feel his presence, whether it’s the sight of a hummingbird or a wave of emotion that brings you up if you’re down. He’d want me to be happy, whether that’s on my own or with somebody. It would have been our anniversary on September 30, and leaving church the Sunday morning before September 11, he turned to me and said, ‘Stop. Let’s think about our first year of marriage.’ That night we were driving back into the city, arguing about something. He grabbed my hand and said, ‘Hold my hand. One day it won’t be there.’”

Ann “Our shared friendship has picked all of us up when nothing else has. It grows, and has changed over the years, but we know we’re always there for each other. I dated for a while, then married someone else and had another set of twins by surrogate. Now we’re getting divorced, but this divorce is nothing like losing Ward. I’m sure I’ll date again, but I don’t need to get married.”

Julia “I looked at Ann and thought, ‘How does she do this with kids?’ Then I thought, ‘I want kids too.’ I married my husband Chris in 2006. We have a nearly three-year-old adopted daughter, Charlotte Rose, and Chris’s ten-year- old daughter, Ivy, from his previous marriage. It takes a strong man to marry a widow.”

Pattie “I work in Boston but still have the apartment in Brooklyn and beach house on Long Island that Caz and I shared. It’s hard to let go. I love the fact his shovel is still in the garage. I kept the last two beer cans he drank from. I still have his old boxer shorts which I wear to bed, and his sweatshirts and baseball caps.”

Claudia “When I started another relationship, I felt I was letting Bart and his family down. But his sister said, ‘If it had been the other way round, this is what we would have wanted for Bart.’ They came to my wedding. We all celebrate Christmas together. They’ve embraced my new husband, John, and our daughter, Isabella.”

Pattie “Caz and I wanted babies. When he died, I had to accept that I wasn’t going to have them. I’m sad about it, but I’m more sad about losing Caz. I miss him; we would have had a family. I have my career, our homes, I still feel as if I am living with his strength and inspiration. I love life but I’m not sure I could ever laugh as robustly as I did with him. I now have a partner, Vinnie, whom I love and he has older daughters and he’s very unthreatened by what I will always feel for Caz. Vinnie and I have a love you grow old with; Caz and I had the love you grow up with.”

Ann “Life is short and I’m not going to waste time being bitter or angry. I wish Ward was here to see our kids growing up. They want to make him proud. September 11 gave me sadness, suffering and heartbreak, but it also showed me courage and kinship.”