Monday Morning Column: Taking a lesson from Welles Remy Crowther

Inside Track introduces the Monday Morning Column (debuting, ironically, at lunchtime), which will be a weekly installment that reflects on a particular topic from the past week or something that is expected to make news in the week ahead. As always, we welcome any input, and please enjoy.

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Welles Remy Crowther, a hero ever among us, 1977-2001.

No one gets to choose how they leave this world, only how they lead their life while they are still a part of it. Ten years ago, on September 11th, hundreds of firefighters, police officers, EMTs, businesspeople, travelers, and average Joe’s chose to give every last ounce of their being so that others would live to see another sunrise, and in doing so made the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives.

Here, I would like to reflect on the life of Welles Remy Crowther, one of countless Americans who could not have possibly foreseen where the day would ultimately lead, but who responded with the utmost courage and bravery in the face of utter despair. It is for Welles Remy Crowther and all of those who died on 9/11/01 that this column is dedicated to.

I never met Welles, but I feel a kinship with him. A fellow graduate of Boston College and a local kid from nearby Nyack, NY, I first heard Welles’ story in 2007, when I met his parents and siblings at an annual 5K held in his honor, the Red Bandana Run.

References to the now-famous “Man in the Red Bandana,” as Welles is so often referred as, were abundant in the news cycle leading up to the tenth anniversary, from a segment on ESPN to articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to a piece online at our own website (see here).

The problem with much of the news coverage of September 11th is that we don’t hear the stories behind the people. That is not meant to belittle the selfless acts of that day itself; only to remind that everyone has a story and that every story has a beginning and middle.

Welles worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center as an equities trader for Sandler O’Neill and Partners. He was not in his office when the second plane hit the WTC. But while employees below the trapped floors were fleeing, Welles ran back towards the towers. According to eyewitness accounts from people who were rescued from the South Tower that day, Welles made several trips between the 78th floor Sky Lobby, where a number of people were trapped, and the FDNY command post that had been set up on the 61st floor. Welles was headed back up to the 78th floor along with a number of firefighters carrying Jaws-of-Life equipment when the tower collapsed. Welles is credited with saving the lives of at least 18 people that day, and in 2006 was the first civilian in the history of the FDNY to be named an honorary firefighter postmortem.

That is the end of Welles’ story. Here is the beginning.

When Welles was 9 or 10 years old, his dad arrived home from work to find his son with a newer version of the video game system that he had had the previous day. It turned out that Welles managed a trade with a friend, with Welles trading his old gaming system and some throw-ins for the newer system. Jefferson Crowther said it was then that he knew Welles had a trader’s mentality.

When Welles was in high school, he participated in a youth leadership conference, called Camp Sunshine, which drew participants from many nations and which Alison Crowther said had a profound impact on her son.

When Welles was 16, he became a junior member of the local volunteer fire department, following in his father’s footsteps. At the age of 18, he became a full member of the department, an experience that would stay with him for eternity.

Between Welles’ sophomore and junior years at Boston College, he was offered an internship at Sandler O’Neill, and was ecstatic to find out that it paid him $350 a week. He went with his dad to pick out a wardrobe for the new internship, and said that he wanted to get suspenders (so that he would look just like his dad).

As a newly-minted employee at Sandler O’Neill after graduating from BC in 1999, Welles would phone his dad and remark on the beautiful weather up on the 104th floor of the South Tower, even if it may have been raining on the ground level.

In June of 2001, Welles told his dad that he wanted to apply to be a FDNY firefighter, because his life was meant for something more than sitting at a computer all day. When reminded that firefighters made a pittance in salary compared to equities traders, Welles brushed it off, saying that there were more important things than money.

That is the person that Welles Remy Crowther was. That is the person that his family remembers. That is the person who ran back into a burning tower, armed only with a red bandana to protect himself from the fumes. May we take a lesson from Welles and how he chose to live his life – it wasn’t about money or mansions or power offices; rather, it was about family and doing what your heart truly wanted. Rest in peace.

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