Commentary by RISMedia President & CEO John Featherston
Another beautiful September day and just about everything was ready for our 2001 Real Estate Leadership Conference to be held that week in New York City. With more than 1,250 attendees from all over the United States expected to attend, along with more international guests than ever before, the next two days would be a combination of a lot of work and a lot of fun for all of us at RISMedia …or so we thought.
Like many of you, I am a creature of habit. That day, I had already stopped for my cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts. I drove over the Norwalk Harbor bridge looking out onto a calm Long Island Sound and thinking how lucky we were to have such great weather for our conference. As usual, there is always a concern regarding the weather at conference time in terms of how it might affect attendance. Would people forego some of the conference sessions to spend time touring Manhattan? We had done our best to create a great, educational program, but the allure of New York City on a beautiful fall day would test the will of any conference attendee.
I arrived at the office just before 8 a.m. and was greeted by several co-workers, already packing up for the ride into the city, excited and ready for a hectic next few days. Blue skies, no humidity, New York City here we come. The first vans were already gone. It was time to hit the road.
As I shut down my computer, getting ready to leave, our production manager burst into my office—“A plane just flew into the World Trade Center!” My first response was, “Nice try. That was a B-25 bomber in 1945 and it was the Empire State building.” But the look on his face told me this was no joke. Darryl MacPherson joined us and we all immediately headed for the television to watch the live CNN feed focused on the Twin Towers. Within seconds, the small conference room was packed and questions were flying back and forth—just as they were all across the world that morning. Then, in front of our own eyes, the second plane crashed into the South Tower. It was 9:03 a.m. and all our lives had changed forever.
Within minutes of the South Tower being attacked, the RIS team sprung into action to alert the more than 1,250 friends and clients heading to New York City for our conference. Teams of people jumped on email and phones, desperately reaching out to attendees. Others reached out to the various Manhattan-based services that were part of our event—the restaurants, hotels, entertainment. One of the most upsetting moments was contacting the private club located on the top of the MetLife building where we had planned a cocktail party for the next night. To me, if you are going to be in New York City, there is nothing greater than a fantastic view of the Skyline at sunset, from way up high. I remembered how a few months earlier we had considered Windows on the World at the top of the World Trade Center.
There were moments we considered not rescheduling the conference that year, but ultimately we decided we should not let the year pass without our annual event in New York City, that we should move forward in the spirit of unity and strength, and not let fear prevail. Several weeks later, on October 17, 2001, our team welcomed about 600 guests to New York City for the rescheduled 12th Annual Leadership Conference—what would become our most memorable conference to date. The city was wounded, the country was wounded, the world at large was wounded—which made all of us at RISMedia enormously appreciative of the many friends and colleagues—most of whom had had not traveled since the terrorist attack—who joined us for the event. They looked fear in the eye and ventured to New York for our conference.
Those who were there with us will never forget the spirit that filled both the streets of Manhattan and our Conference—the chants of, “USA, USA,” flags flying everywhere, and the very poignant performance of John Heithaus, the late great Kevin “Dr. C” Crutchfield, and Billy Joel band member Mark Rivera, who played an unforgettable rendition of “New York State of Mind.”
That was how September 11, 2001—a day that will truly live in infamy for our generation—began for all of us here at RISMedia. But for the grace of God, our immediate families were spared in the attack on America, but virtually all of our hometowns suffered terribly, with so many of the Tower victims being from our area. More than 150 people with Connecticut ties were killed in the attacks that day—neighbors, friends, friends of friends, old schoolmates… What followed were weeks and months of dedicated volunteers searching, many times in vain, for the remains of the lost, and the funerals that followed.
Today, 10 years later, more than 1,200 of the lost remain unidentified and life has, as it always does, moved on as the events of September 11, 2001 became woven into the fabric of history.
That said, I believe we all have an obligation to relive that tragic day, especially on its anniversary, and remind ourselves to never take our freedom for granted and to honor the men and women in our country’s military who continually protect this freedom and the American way of life.
The weather forecast for September 11, 2011, is as beautiful as it was a decade ago. Let us make this a day of remembrance for all those lost, and a day of appreciation for all that we have.