My 9-11 Heroes

09.09.2011 | Mary Ellen Eagan |

I must admit that there’s been so much hype leading up to the 9/11 anniversary that I’ve been dreading the idea of reading yet another blog post on the subject, much less writing one.  But here I am.

My daughter (who was four years old in 2001) came home from high school yesterday with an assignment to “interview someone” on the impacts of 9/11 on America, her parents, etc.   As is often the case with her homework, I deflected the responsibility to my husband, who railed about George Bush’s response that day and the loss of civil liberties that we’ve experienced since.

One of the questions in my daughter’s interview was whether we knew anyone who was directly affected.  So over the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about my two 9/11 heroes, and how their lives were changed forever:

  • Betty Desrosiers is Director of Aviation Planning and Strategy for Massport.  I’ve known her for many years, and our professional lives most often intersect at public meetings or other venues where Betty (and Massport) are working to mitigate the impacts of Boston Logan Airport (or Hanscom Field) on the surrounding communities.  Which includes noise, of course.   As part of her strategic planning responsibility, Betty developed Massport’s Family Assistance Center, which quickly fills a critical void in an emergency by providing information, aid, comfort and compassion to friends and family of individuals involved in a transportation disaster. Betty activated and directed the Family Assistance Center at Boston Logan on 9/11 and maintained the center for many days after the terrorist attack.
  • Mike O’Neil was my first real boss and mentor.  In 1979, I was a counselor at Camp Marycrest in Grande Isle (VT) and Mike was Head of the Waterfront.  I learned much from Mike: how to tie a bowline, how paddle a canoe well enough to teach campers (my first practice at consulting, I guess), and other extra-curricular activities that the camp nuns shouldn’t have known about (but somehow did).  I lost touch with Mike for many years, but we reconnected at a Marycrest reunion a couple of years ago (turns out he also got a lot out of that summer, most importantly meeting his wife).  Mike has served as Fire Chief in both South Burlington and Burlington, and is now Emergency Management Director for the State of Vermont (a busy job the last couple of weeks in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene!).  In 2001, though, Mike worked at Ground Zero for four weeks, starting on 9/12.  Mike’s reaction to Osama Bin Laden’s death and his story was chronicled in the Burlington Free Press.

It occurs to me that what I’ve chosen to remember about 9/11 is not the pain or fear caused by the attacks, but the humanity and goodness demonstrated by so many people in their response to that day.  That is what patriotism means to me.  And this post is for them.


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Mary Ellen Eagan

President & CEO

As President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of HMMH, Mary Ellen is responsible for providing strategic, innovative leadership…

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