Tuesday was supposed his day off, but Rye’s Tommy Palazzo received a call from a buddy who needed a fourth to play in a charity golf tournament for Habitat for Humanity in Connecticut. So Palazzo changed his day off to Monday, September 10th so he could help out his friend by playing in the tournament at the Fairfield Country Club in Westport.
That change cost Tommy his life. He was one of several Rye residents –George Morell, Sean O’Neill, Teddy Maloney, Francis McGuinn and Ward Haynes, all close friends —working for Cantor Fitzgerald in various financial capacities when their office in the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers collapsed in flames.
That happened between 8:46 a.m. when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower and 9:03 a.m. when United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower.
They were all working virtually side-by-side on the upper floors of the World Trade Center.
Rye lost seven other financial industry workers in World Trade Center on that Tuesday, a decade ago: Christopher Mello, Benjamin Fisher, Thomas Crotty, Gary Kocheler, Michael Simon, Allan Upton, Yugi Goya and Takashi Kinoshita.
Each one of their families has a story of survival today: Ann Haynes remarried and co-authored a book on her post 9/11 experience (“Love You, Mean It” written with several other 9-11 widows); Holly O’Neill-Melville became a therapist and has also remarried; and Lynn McGuinn has raised three daughters and recently opened a shop called Hampton Whites on Purchase Street in Rye selling a collection of fine all-white china, pewter, glassware and home décor in a shop not far from Rye's 9/11 Memorial Gazebo on the Village Green.
Here are a select few of those Rye stories about children growing up without their fathers, a father intent on memorializing his son, a widow’s first kiss and a grandmother leading a crusade of sorts to make sure her son and those who died with him would never be forgotten.
Ten years later, Tommy Palazzo’s family still wonders about the what-ifs.
“What if Tommy hadn’t changed his day off so he wouldn’t have been at this desk on 9/11?” muses his sister Toni Maloney. “What a difference that would have made in so many lives touched by him.”
Those lives include Palazzo’s wife, Lisa (sister of Rye Town Supervisor and hedge fund manager Joe Carvin), and their three daughters: Kristen, 27 (who will be married in Nantucket this September 27th, not very far from where Tommy and the family last vacationed together), Keri, 25, and Kathleen, 23.
And Tommy’s siblings: Phillip, Dick, Bettina, Robbie, Toni and Barbara, and their parents Elizabeth (Teddy) and Phillip, a noted former orthopedic surgeon who just turned 90.
“I can still hear my father saying Tommy’s going to be all right after we learned those planes hit the Towers. Dad said he was wandering around the streets with amnesia, he even had me check the burn units of the various area hospitals,” Toni recalls. “We’ve since more or less made our peace with what happened. Tommy would want us all to live our lives to the fullest for him.”
That includes family boating trip in Tommy’s Boston Whaler named Tail Walker and reminiscing about his athletic exploits at Westchester Country Club as a lacrosse player, fisherman, skier, trap shooter and golfer.
Palazzo has been immortalized in a way with a golf tournament and Swim Across America-like event named after him along with the pediatric unit of a local hospital.
Tommy, 44, is buried in Gates of Heaven Cemetery, near his buddy George Morell.
Morell and his brother Mark lived with Phil and Teddy Palazzo and their brood for a while when they were younger and their family had just moved to Florida.
Mark has a boat called Miss You 2 with the underline reading "George Morell and Tommy Palazzo."
Several of the 9/11 Rye survivor families go boating together on Trail Walker and Miss You 2, including George Morell’s wife Roberta and their kids, Nancy, George Jr., Kelsey and Harrison.
Other Rye families who suffered loss that day have made their peace –more or less-- with what happened as well.
Retired phone company executive Doug Mello and his attorney wife, Ellen helped create a fitness center at the Rye YMCA bearing their son Christopher’s name. They have also established a scholarship in his name awarded to the outstanding scholar-athletes in the traditional Rye-Harrison football game, one from each team. His Garnets football jersey –number 28—is enshrined in a glass trophy case at the high school, his portrait staring out forever young over his bio.
Chris Mello was an outstanding football and lacrosse player at Rye High. He graduated from Princeton, dated his childhood sweetheart Kristy Walsh and became a financial whiz. He called Kristy that Tuesday morning to say he had just been upgraded to business class on the Los Angeles-bound American Airlines Flight 11.
In one of the ironic Rye links, Doug Mello was active working with the feds after the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. In the same attack, George Morell carried a pregnant woman down 52 flights of stairs from Cantor Fitzgerald.
Morell was also among those at Cantor Fitzgerald who called home during 9/11 to say he thought the WTC had been hit by a bomb again only this time he wasn’t sure he could get out and, by the way, here’s the location of my life insurance policy.
Chris Mello, 25, shares a row at Rye’s Greenwood Union Cemetery with Ward Haynes, 35, Sean O’Neill, 34, and Frank McGuinn, 48.
Ann Haynes remembers falling in love with Ward from almost the first time she saw him at the Mug & Ale, now the Rye Bar and Grill. They married July 9, 1994 at the American Yacht Club, had twins Elizabeth and Billy, and thought the sky was the limit when he was named to a vice presidency at Cantor Fitzgerald.
After Ward's death, she found support through a Widow’s Club that shared stories of life after 9/11; wrote a book with a few of them, and later remarried to Kevin Nalepka.
Sean O’Neill went to Rye High School with future wife Holly, but never dated until they re-connected while working in NYC a decade later.
They got married at Rye’s Church of the Resurrection, honeymooned in San Francisco and Hawaii, and settled back in Rye. Holly found out she was pregnant soon after returning from their honeymoon. Three months later Sean was killed. Their daughter, now 9, is named Sean. Holly has become a therapist, and re-married.
Sean O’Neill is buried next to his father James, a former newsman, who died one year after his son on September 11, 2002.
Holly remains close to her mother-in-law Rosaleen O’Neill. Sean was Rosaleen’s only son, the youngest of four children all born in Italy, where James worked. The O’Neills moved to Rye when Sean was seven. Both Holly, 41, and Rosaleen, 81, became involved in post 9/11 causes.
Holly has served as chair of Rye’s September 11, 2001 Memorial Inc.–the group that made Rye’s 9/11 Memorial Gazebo on the Village Green a reality. Rosaleen was on the ten member committee that chose the design for The Rising, the soaring 9/11 memorial in Valhalla’s Kensico Dam Plaza that cost $200,000 and consists of intersecting steel rods honoring all 111 Westchester residents who died in the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center. It also has a Circle of Remembrance with 111 symbolic squares.
Holly has remarried and is now Holly O’Neill-Melville. She will read the names of the Rye 9/11 dead during the city’s commemorative service Sunday.
Holly and Rosaleen both wear a remembrance bracelet engraved with the name of Sean Gordon Corbett O’Neill. And Sean O’Neill, 9, asks “Why didn’t someone tell my father not to go to work that day?”
And life goes on.
Liz McGuinn, 54, tries to keep the focus on 9/11 as a time of personal loss not a political event. She has raised three daughters, Elizabeth and Carly–ages 10 and 8 when Frank died– and their eldest, Daniele. She has lent her support to an effort to create gardens dedicated to tolerance and forgiveness. And she has made a recovery break through of sorts in the past year.
McGuinn said she found inspiration from white stones scattered on the beach during a visit to the Hamptons last year. Those scattered stones reminded her of the theme of personal growth that was part of one of her favorite movies, “Somethings’s Gotta Give” with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson.
Those rolling stones led to her idea to start a store called Hampton Whites, which opened in May almost across the street from the Village Green and the Memorial Gazebo.
The Rye 9/11 survivors will hold their own private commemorative service on the Village Green, their own time of grief and personal loss.