The painful story of Beverly Eckert losing her husband over the phone is harrowing, to say the least. A story of true love, she kept his memory alive by working with families bereaved by the tragedy, until she passed
When Sean Rooney used to come back home from his work at the World Trade Center as Vice President at Aon, he would walk in and ask “Where is my hug?”
He and his wife, Beverly Eckert who had been together ever since they met all the way back in high school at a dance when they were just 16. For the happily married couple, September 11, 2001, may have started off like any other day. But when Beverly Eckert got a call from her husband at 9:30 a.m., it was to tell her his final goodbye.
Stuck on the 105th floor of the South Tower, Sean had tried calling his wife several times, Beverly reveals. “When I heard his voice on the phone, I was so happy, thinking he had made it out. He told me he was on the 105th floor. I knew right away Sean was never coming home,” The Sun quoted Beverly saying.
Even though he knew that these could possibly be his final moments, not once did Sean let his wife know the fear that he may have been feeling.
“There was a building in flames underneath him, but Sean didn’t even flinch,” Beverly said in a recording made at StoryCorps, as reported by 9/11 Memorial & Museum. He stayed composed, just talking to me the way he always did. I will always be in awe of the way he faced death. Not an ounce of fear—not when the windows around him were getting too hot to touch; not when the smoke was making it hard to breathe.”
Eventually, they stopped talking about escape routes and used whatever few moments they had left to remember all that they shared.
“I wanted to use the precious few minutes we had left just to talk. He told me to give his love to his family, and then we just began talking about all the happiness we shared during our lives together, how lucky we were to have each other,” Beverly added. “At one point, when I could tell it was getting harder for him to breathe, I asked if it hurt. He paused for a moment, and then said, ‘No.’ He loved me enough to lie.”
“I told him that I wanted to be there with him, but he said, no, no, he wanted me to live a full life,” the wife, left with no choice, said, according to NPR. “…I just wanted to crawl through the phone lines to him, to hold him, one last time.”
Beverly didn’t put the phone down and heard everything that happened around her husband in his final moments.
“In the end, as the smoke got thicker, he just kept whispering, ‘I love you,’ over and over. Then I suddenly heard this loud explosion through the phone. It reverberated for several seconds,” she said. “We held our breath. I know we both realized what was about to happen. Then I heard a sharp crack, followed by the sound of an avalanche. I heard Sean gasp once as the floor fell out from underneath him. I called his name into the phone over and over. Then I just sat there huddled on the floor holding the phone to my heart.”
All of a sudden, September 11, 2001 turned into the last day that she spent with her husband. Beverly said, “I think about that last half-hour with Sean all the time. I remember how I didn’t want that day to end, terrible as it was, I didn’t want to go to sleep because as long as I was awake, it was still a day that I’d shared with Sean.”
To her, it had felt like she had just kissed her husband goodbye before he left for work, and not long after that, they had their last conversation before her husband was gone forever at the age of 50. She said, “I just think of myself as living life for both of us now. And I like to think that Sean would be proud of me.”
Later, Beverly became a spokesperson and advocated for families, just like hers, that were bereaved because of the 9/11 attack, according to StoryCorps.
She didn’t want other people to be widowed like her, and she became one among the group of broken families who lobbied for better reforms that protected the people of America from terrorism. According to Independent, she said, “I did all of this for Sean’s memory, I did it for him,“ she said, crying again. “There is a euphoria in knowing that we reached the top of the hill. … I just wanted Sean to come home from work. Maybe now, someone else’s Sean will get to come home.”
However, in 2009, she passed away in a plane crash whilst traveling to honor someone with a scholarship in her husband’s name at their old high school.
In the time that she had, she did her best to spark change. A 9/11 family activist said, “She was such an important part of all of our work.”