Westchester Families Remember the Loved Ones They Lost on 9/11
We check in with three Westchester County locals to honor their loved ones and the life-changing work done by Tuesday’s Children.
Our September 2021 issue of Westchester Magazine includes among its myriad of features an exciting fall arts preview, a guide to rustic and decadent Hudson Valley getaways, a step-by-step for an unforgettable girls’ night out, and in-depth interviews with survivors of 9/11. Even 20 years later, it’s no surprise that some wounds haven’t fully healed. They won’t. Ever. That’s why Tuesday’s Children formed soon after the attack that left so many Americans, and so many Westchester families, devastated by personal loss.
“We have provided long-term healing and resilience-building support to over 42,000 individuals, including supportive services to build resilience in 3,051 children who lost a parent on 9/11,” says Tuesday’s Children Executive Director Terry Sheers. The organization, which is based in New York City, stepped in to provide emotional, financial, and even simply communal support for several local families.
Now, as even the youngest of Tuesday’s Children are graduating college, the organization expands its mandate to provide aid beyond the families of September 11 victims.
“We are proud to continue to serve the families and communities impacted by terrorism, military conflict, and mass violence for two decades in New York, the U.S. and across the globe,” says Sears. “We have also expanded our mission to provide the same platform of proven programs and services to thousands of post-9/11 Military Families of the Fallen, who have suffered losses as a ripple effect of the 9/11 tragedy.”
As uplifting as it was to speak with survivors of September 11, we also wanted to hear from Westchester families who lost loved ones on 9/11. Here’s where they are, 20 years later.
Marianne and Thomas Fitzpatrick lived in Tuckahoe in 2001. They were high school sweethearts and, after seven years of marriage, busy raising their children — Brendan, 2½, and Caralyn, six months. Thomas was an associate director at Sandler O’Neill & Partners on the 104th floor of Tower Two.
“He went in that day because he was supposed to go to a convention, so he went in just kind of quickly to get whatever he needed and then he was going to fly out that afternoon,” Fitzpatrick says.
“He called me to tell me…I guess he called me after the North Tower was hit, and he said, ‘I’m okay,’ and so I said, ‘Okay, leave when you can.’ I think he said, ‘They’re telling us all to stay upstairs. It’s safer because of the debris that’s falling … blah blah blah blah blah,’” she says. “That was the last I spoke to him.”
“I got a phone call from a friend of his, and he said, ‘Are you watching the news?’ and I said, ‘No, I came into the baby’s room to change her,’ and then he was like, ‘Okay, just know that Thomas’ building was hit.’ So that was how that went in the morning.”
Thomas’ parents came over, followed by more, as many as 10 people Marianne recalls, trying to suss out what was happening. “A bunch of his friends from Sandler O’Neill, came to the house and said, ‘He was going to get on the elevator and then somebody called, and he went back.’ They think they were the last elevator to make it down.”
“For a little bit of time I thought, ‘Oh, why are you so stupid? Why did you go back?’” she says, “But he might’ve thought it was me. Who knows?”
Fortunately enough, Marianne’s parents and her in-laws were readily on hand for familial support. The Fitzpatricks were also one of the first families approached by Tuesday’s Children. “I feel like we went to one of the very first events that they had out in Long Island,” she says. “I got to know some of the people very well. Some of the girls have left and come back, so it’s kind of nice, we always felt very much like family with them.”
Even from such a young age, Brendan and Caralyn benefited tremendously, Marianne says. “The kids met a lot of the other children who had also lost a family member, so it was actually very nice to have that bond. We could feel free to talk about things and compare notes as to how the kids were doing or just…stuff. Insurance and all those kinds of things. So, it was very helpful.”
Over the years, the Fitzpatricks attended many Tuesday’s Children events for Westchester 9/11 families and others, from support groups to ball games. Eventually, Marianne joined the organization’s Family Advisory Board. Brendan, now 22, has likewise joined the Project Common Board, spending a week every summer helping children from all over the world — as far as Israel and Palestine — who have suffered due to terrorist attacks, teaching conflict resolution.
Every year on September 11, the Fitzpatricks attend services at The Rising, the 9/11 memorial at Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla, writing notes and annual life updates for Thomas and sending them up through the center of the sculpture by balloon.
“It was weird the first 9/11 that he [Brendan] was not home, when he was a freshman,” Marianne says. Attending Boston College, Brendan ended up spreading the tradition, running to the local party supply store and recreating the family’s personal ceremony at the school’s own local 9/11 memorial, The Labyrinth. “Then he found a couple of people from PCB who were in town and they joined him, and then the next year another one was a freshman. That kind of became their little tradition up at school, which was really nice because I was so nervous he was going to be alone.”
Marianne has remained extremely close with her in-laws over the last 20 years and, though she has not remarried, she has had a long-term relationship with a retired police officer the kids look on as a father figure. Still, Thomas is never far from the Fitzpatrick’s lives, especially in part through Brendan.
“I see expressions on his face, I see things,” Marianne says. “Even a couple of weeks ago he did something, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I literally just saw your father.’ It’s just so bizarre. He’s like, ‘Really? What did I do?’ and I’m like, ‘I have no idea, it’s just whatever you just did with your face. It’s just him.’”
As the family and Tuesday’s Children grow older, priorities obviously do shift. Brendan is now living full-time in Boston, Caralyn is attending college (though a bit closer to home), and Marianne’s work with the nonprofit takes on new imperatives.
“The kids are older and now there are other people who are in need and most of us who are on the Family Advisory Board are pretty much in agreement about that,” she says. “There are other people now that we can help who have lost family members to different tragedies. It doesn’t always have to be a terrorist attack; it could be Gold Star families or just families in general from other attacks or maybe even gun violence. I’m hoping that’s the direction we’re going.”
An Ardsley native, Brad Walz is a Westchesterite through and through. His family has lived in Ardsley for the past 20 years, he attended preschool there, and he is an Ardsley High grad. After two years of college at Syracuse, Brad transferred to Binghamton University and then Rutgers for his masters — which he got in under a year, though he never got a graduation thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s now working for a public relations firm in Bayside, Queens while living in White Plains.
In 2001, Brad’s parents were living in Tuckahoe. On September 11, Brad was only three years old. His father, Jeffrey P. Walz, was a firefighter with FDNY Ladder 9, himself a fireman’s son from Staten Island.
“I have memories, but I’m reluctant to confirm those as accurate because I feel like I remember the day a little bit, I feel like I remember some things from my dad,” Brad says, “but I suppose it’s impossible to say. I do have a vivid image of my mom. My mom got home very late that day. There was a separate threat against the subway, so she didn’t make it home till super late. And I remember her very upset talking to…I don’t think she was a nanny, but like the babysitter. I feel like I remember the day and asking where he was. I know that sounds a little too storybook perfect, but it’s what I remember.”
“Of my dad,” he continues, “I do remember kind of various memories, vacations like going to South Carolina, going to Myrtle Beach. I have a lot of pictures. I remember him being a very attentive, playful dad. He had a big, beautiful beer gut towards the end that I used to love to play with.” He adds, laughing, “I strive to have that one day.”
Whether those are all actual memories or reconstructions from flashes and photos and family stories, Brad couldn’t say. “Maybe that’s stuff I made in my head as a child that stuck with me, but from what I feel like I remember, that’s what I have.”
Brad is another of the very first Tuesday’s Children. “They sold me pretty easily. I absolutely love the Mets, and the first big thing to do was we would go to Mets games. They recently just did an event there where I got to sit in the suite and call the Jumbotron, and I got to meet Mr. Met — and he had met Mrs. Met since I’d last seen him, so I was very, very happy to congratulate him, because he deserves someone.”
“I just have so many good memories of stuff that they have done,” he says, “and, more importantly, growing up, I don’t want to say I ever had a victim’s mentality. Not having a father was so normalized to me and, truth be told, my mom … I couldn’t have asked for anything better. She always gave me structure and love and whatever I needed.”
Like Marianne Fitzpatrick, Brad’s mother joined one of Tuesday’s Children’s advisory boards. In fact, the two families are now good friends, even vacationing together. “I definitely think that made my mom feel more comfortable going in with someone,” he says, “and everyone at Tuesday’s Children is just so awesome. They really care about the work they do, and I think it shows because a lot of the people who have been working there have been there for the longest time.”
Brad gives tremendous credit to Tuesday’s Children for the help and support his family has received over the past two decades. “They did teach me to give back and still be thankful for what I had, regardless of what happened to me. I had a great childhood. I had great friends. I still have great family. I’m very close with my father’s side. But they taught me to give back — giving care packages back to soldiers, welcoming in new families. I couldn’t imagine living life without what I have experienced with them.”
So much later, Brad is also proud to see how the organization expands its reach. “As time goes on the children of 9/11 are like my age — I’m one of the youngest — are getting older, and there’s not going to be as many of us and I think that’s awesome that they’re spreading into different avenues: sons and daughters of fallen soldiers and whatnot.”
“When I got into my teens and my college years and started doing internships,” he says, “I wasn’t as involved with Tuesday’s Children, and now that I’ve gotten older, I would definitely like to get more involved, and I want to start going to more of the events. Tuesday’s Children gave me the opportunity to learn about people grieving and how they grieve their loss, so I’m telling my story more or less to hopefully help at least one person learn how I dealt with my situation. I would love to get involved because I think it’s the right thing to do when I was so grateful to have someone like them have my back. It’s not like they had to; they did this because they saw an opportunity to help people and I would like to get involved with that.”
Maria McHugh Sayegh
Michael Edward McHugh, Jr. was a sales director for Cantor Fitzgerald at the World Trade Center on September 11. He and his wife, Maria, and their three young children — Michael III (6), Christian (3), and Connor (1) — lived in the Village of Tuckahoe, where Michael was an adjunct member of the village planning board, then chairman, and was running for the Westchester County Board of Legislators.
“Michael called me, but I was on the other line. He called a couple of times but I just thought he was going to kind of give me errands to run or just kind of say ‘Good morning.’ He would often call while I was making the kids breakfast. He would just call to say ‘Good morning, how’s it going? How are the kids doing?’ I was on the phone with his campaign manager’s wife, and I never took the call. She actually said, ‘Maria, I need to jump off for a second, my brother’s been trying to call me,’ and when she came back on, she said, ‘Oh my god, the World Trade Center was just hit by a plane,’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s where Michael works.’ We quickly got off the phone and I immediately called him back and there was no answer.”
“After he passed, Tuesday’s Children was born and we were immediately a part of their organization,” Maria says. “Soon after, I actually became a Family Advisory Board Member, which I really enjoyed because they were an amazing part of a very difficult time in our life. It’s hard to know that void of a parent passing and, while nothing can replace my late-husband, Tuesday’s Children gave us an opportunity to enjoy events that would otherwise be difficult to provide without someone’s help.”
“Tuesday’s Children would be able to provide a plethora of activities for us to enjoy. Not because we would forget that their father passed away, but just to give us something to look forward to.” Tuesday’s Children also offered betterment programs to Michael and Maria’s kids as they grew. “At one point, the kids took advantage of West Point’s mentoring program. My son Michael went to a British bridge program, a program for kids to look outside of America to possibly take advantage for a study abroad program.”
“We used to go to Mets games a lot, meet the players afterwards, or we’d go skating at Rockefeller Center, or we’d see a premiere of a Nickelodeon show. We really took advantage of everything Tuesday’s Children had to offer and, at the same time, they got to know me and my kids really, really well. Now we have an amazing relationship with them. I don’t think I’ve ever had an amazing relationship such as this with an organization outside of my own immediate family. Over the last 20 years, as difficult as everything has been, there’s been a light, and they’ve been that shining light for us.”
Today, Maria and her children still have an incredibly close relationship with Michael’s family. Michael III graduated from the University of Michigan and joined the military, currently going through a special forces program.
“I’m very, very proud of my children,” Maria says. “Really, all I’ve ever wanted was for them to be happy. You just want to raise happy kids. They’re happy, they’re successful, they’re well-adjusted … they’re great kids. I just married and I have another little boy. We’re just trying to make our way; do the best we can do. It’s devastating — it’s too devastating — and although a lot of time has gone by, I’m not really sure anyone ever gets past it, really. An organization like Tuesday’s Children, where they always seem to have our backs, has been a big reason why we’re all well-adjusted and doing well.”
To learn more about the work Tuesday’s Children can do and the programs offered, visit tuesdayschildren.org.