What should have been an ordinary day for Beverly turned tragic in the blink of an eye. She then spent the rest of her life trying to help families who lost their own in the 9/11 attacks.
It was a ritual. Sean Rooney would come back home after his day at the World Trade Center as Vice President at Aon and then ask “Where is my hug?” And his wife, Beverly Eckert, would walk into his arms for a hug.
The two of them first met in high school at a dance at the tender age of 16 and from there on, they were the only ones for each other. So on September 11, 2001, it should have been a regular day where Sean would come back and expect his hug. However, a call from him to Beverly at 9:30 a.m. had her heart pounding, because that was the last time she would hear his voice. It was his final goodbye.
Stuck on the 105th floor of the South Tower, Sean tried calling Beverly multiple times that day, she revealed to The Sun. "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," she said.
Though he knew that he had a low chance of making it out of the demolished building alive, Sean never once let on to his wife of the fear 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 and 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."
Soon enough, they stopped discussing escape routes and used what little time they had to talk about their shared love. "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 heartbroken wife said, according to NPR. "...I just wanted to crawl through the phone lines to him, to hold him, one last time."
Not wanting to waste even a moment, Beverly didn't put the phone down and heard everything that was happening around the love of her life 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."
And then September 11, 2001 was no longer just an ordinary day. It was etched into her heart and mind that it was the last day she spent with Sean. 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."
She continued, "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. She advocated for families who, like her, had lost people in the 9/11 attack, according to StoryCorps.
She didn't want others to go through what she went through as a widow and so joined a group of broken families who fought for better reforms that protected the American people from terrorism. According to Independent UK, 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."
Sadly though, in 2009, she was involved in a plane crash while traveling to honor someone with a scholarship in her husband's name at their old high school. She didn't make it. But she did spend the life she had to spark change. A 9/11 family activist said, "She was such an important part of all of our work."
Here's to praying that she was finally reunited with her Sean.