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Video: 9/11 widow and hero dies in plane crash

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 2/13/2009 11:51:28 AM ET 2009-02-13T16:51:28

One of the victims of Continental Flight 3407, Beverly Eckert, was a Sept. 11 widow who put her never-ending grief to good use to make the country safer.

"We know she was on that plane and now she's with him," Eckert’s sister, Sue Borque, told The Buffalo News.

Just last week, Eckert was at the White House with Barack Obama, part of a meeting the president had with relatives of those killed in the 2001 attacks and the bombing of the USS Cole to discuss how the new administration would handle terror suspects.

Obama, addressing business leaders on Friday, referred to her "passionate commitment" to the 9/11 families.  "She was an inspiration to me and to so many others, and I pray that her family finds peace and comfort in the hard days ahead," the president said during remarks about the crash at the East Room event.

"She was such an important part of all of our work," said Mary Fetchet, another 9/11 family activist. She learned Eckert was aboard the plane from another close Eckert family friend now headed to Buffalo, near where the plane went down, crashing into a house.

Visible grief in wake of attacks
Carol Ashley, whose daughter died at the World Trade Center, said the grim details of Eckert's death are particularly painful to Eckert's friends among 9/11 families.

"The fact that it was a plane crash, it was fire, it was reminiscent of 9/11 that way, that's just very difficult," said Ashley, a retired schoolteacher from Long Island.

She carried that grief to Congress as she tried to make the government do a better job protecting its citizens from terrorism.

Her husband worked at Aon Corp., a risk management firm, at the 98th floor of the World Trade Center's south tower.

She cried when she would tell the story about how her husband — who was her high school sweetheart — called her on the morning of the attacks, and told her he loved her just before there was a loud explosion and nothing more.

Lobbying lawmakers
Eckert was part of a small group of Sept. 11 widows, mothers, and children who became amateur lobbyists, ultimately forcing lawmakers in 2004 to pass sweeping reforms of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.

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"My husband's life was priceless, and I will not let his death be meaningless," she wrote in an op-ed in USA Today in 2003.

She pushed for a 9/11 Commission. She pushed then-President George W. Bush's administration to provide more information to the commission. And when the commission's work was over, she pushed Congress to adopt their recommendations.

The members spent months walking the halls of Congress. All of the women were grieving, but Eckert seemed unable or uninterested in holding back her tears.

When it was over and they'd won passage of the intelligence reform law, Eckert vowed to quit her high-profile role "cold turkey." All she wanted, she said, was to go home, buy groceries, and return to something like a regular life.

"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."

Not an easy role
For Eckert, the public role was not easy.

One night after a long day at Congress, she found herself in the New York City train station, without a connecting train to her home in Stamford, Connecticut.

"We slept in the train station. We had no place else to go. That's when you look at yourself and say, 'What am I doing? How can we possibly get this done?'."

As Congress hemmed and hawed, Eckert vowed to sleep there, too, if it would get the law passed.

After the law passed, Eckert turned her energies to Habitat for Humanity, helping build homes for low-income families.

"I'm in shock, I just can't believe it," said Carie Lemack, whose mother died Sept. 11 on one of the hijacked planes. "Beverly had a can-do attitude about everything, and she never gave up."
Eckert was flying to her hometown Thursday night when the plane crashed on approach to the Buffalo airport, killing everyone on board and one person on the ground.

She had planned on celebrating her late husband's 58th birthday and delivering an address to Canisus High School, where Sean Rooney's memory was to be honored with a scholarship.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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