Laying the foundation for peace
In the months following the 9/11 attacks, the Lynch family from the Bronx, New York, made the decision that they were going to help people. They had lost Michael Francis Lynch: son, brother, uncle and fiancé, one of the 343 firefighters who died during the rescue efforts. “We wanted to respond to evil by doing good for others,” said Michael’s father, Jack Lynch in an interview with Sheila Langan for Irish America. “We thought that was the best way to honor our son and brother. It’s what he would have wanted.”
In 2002, the family founded the Michael Lynch Memorial Foundation as a means “to help change the world, one person at a time by helping students of today become tomorrow’s stewards of peace and freedom.”
Since 2002, the foundation has granted 75 scholarships totaling over $1.6 million dollars to young adults who are children of firefighters or who lost a parent on 9/11 or in another national disaster.
The foundation is largely family-run. Jack serves as the president; Michael’s sister-in-law, Lou Ann Eckert-Lynch, is in charge of the scholarship selection committee; and other family members oversee the foundation’s events and financial and legal concerns. The family works on a volunteer basis, and as Jack emphasized, they will “make sure it remains that way.” He added, “We plan to always take the higher road.”
More information on the foundation and its upcoming events can be found at www.mlynch.org
A pillar of strength
On September 11, 2001, Lynn Tierney was one of the four Deputy Commissioners at the New York Fire Department. Upon hearing about the attacks she went to the World Trade Center to assist in rescue operations. She helped at the Command Post in the lobby of Tower One, and narrowly escaped injury by diving into a loading dock when the second tower went down.
Lynn was always a pillar of strength for the firefighters, as well as a welcome feminine touch to the mostly male crew.
She lost many who were near and dear to her on 9/11 and wrote many obituaries and eulogies for her colleagues.
Lynn moved on from her job at the Fire Department because it became too painful, but she continued to be involved. She collaborated with friend and former firefighter Lee Ielpi, and others, to create the September 11th Families Association. The Association connected those who lost family members and friends, and enabled them to go through the healing process together.
Out of the September 11th Association came the Tribute Center. Lynn served as president of the center, which opened in September 2006 and now serves 500,000 visitors a year. The Center strives to connect those who want to understand the impact of 9/11 with people who experienced it.
“At the very worst time in our history, I saw the very best in the people who responded,” Lynn said. “That whole day whether you lived or died was a matter of happenstance and a few feet. I have grasped how short life is and how precious and how you should live it purposefully every day.”
Today, Lynn is associate vice president of communications at the University of California Office. She remains close to her colleagues in New York Fire Department.
“I just tell them ‘I’m Irish”
At 32, Tom Foley was already a ten-year veteran of the FDNY, when he died with Rescue 3 Company on 9/11. It was the job he dreamed of since childhood, when he would visit the Harlem firehouse of a family friend, Firefighter Bob Conroy.
“Tommy boy – that’s what I call him, ever since he’s a kid,” Conroy said, speaking to Brian Rohan for Irish America just days after 9/11. “I can still see Tommy boy running around the firehouse in Harlem, running around and getting filthy dirty. It’s all he ever wanted to do.”
As a firefighter, Foley had made many daring rescues. In 1999, he and Police Officer Romano Amleto went over the side of a high-rise building to rescue two construction workers whose scaffolding had collapsed. Descending by ropes, Foley and Amleto grabbed the men, safely bringing them to the ground.
In addition to being a firefighter, Tom made a name for himself as a rodeo rider (his interest in the cowboy lifestyle came from working on his grandfather’s farm in upstate New York. He was also a competitive power lifter, and found time to skydive. In 2000, People magazine featured Tom, who was born in the Bronx and grew up in West Nyack, as one of the sexiest men at work. He was also honored by Irish America in 2000 and he probably gave the shortest acceptance speech in the history of the awards. He shrugged, smiled, looked at the audience and said, “When anyone asks me, I just tell them ‘I’m Irish.’ ”