September 11, 2001
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Amherst College > News & Events > Terrorist Attacks > Letter from Tom Gerety, Oct. 1

October 1, 2001

Dear Amherst Alumni, Parents and Friends:

For the past few years, I've written each fall to update you on news from campus. This year, I write under very different circumstances, to make you aware of how the devastating events of September 11 have affected the Amherst community and to extend the heartfelt sympathies of the campus community to those of you who have lost loved ones in recent weeks.

Our first definite loss was Dr. Frederick C. Rimmele III '90, who was traveling to California for a professional conference on United Flight 175 when his plane was hijacked; his was the second of the flights to crash into the World Trade Center. A clinician and teacher, Fred was a professor of family medicine at Beverly Hospital in Beverly, Massachusetts. After Amherst he attended Duke Medical School. He lived with his wife, Kimberly Trudel, in Marblehead, Massachusetts. An avid rower at Amherst, he had majored in both Chemistry and English, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. Professors Pat O'Hara and Allen Kropf, crew coach Bill Stekl and I joined many of Fred's classmates at the funeral.

Moreover, we know that two other alumni and several relatives of current students or staff are among the missing at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Maurita Tam, who graduated last spring, was on the 99th floor of Tower 2, working at a company called AON; she majored in Economics and was a devoted member of the concert choir, coming back to campus as an alumna this fall to sing at Convocation. Her uncle also died in this tragedy. This past weekend Adelia and I joined many others from Amherst at the memorial service for Brock Safronoff '97 in Staten Island. An outstanding pitcher on our baseball team and a Chemistry major, Brock was married a few weeks ago to his Amherst classmate Tara Neelakantappa. Brock was on the 96th floor of Tower 1, working as a computer expert at Marsh & McLennan. Other campus families also lost loved ones: Bonnie Smithwick, the mother of Jim Smithwick '03, was on the 92nd floor of one of the towers with Fred Alger Management Company; Catherine MacRae, the sister of Annie MacRae '04, was with the same firm on a nearby floor; Rachel Cardona '04 lost her aunt, who worked on one of the lower floors in one of the towers. Glenn Thompson, the brother-in-law of Andy Sagor '03, is still missing, as is Donald Kauth, the uncle of Honora MacNaughton '03. Edward McCabe '05 lost his uncle Tom O'Hagan, a New York firefighter and a brand new father of twins who was in the first phalanx of rescue workers into the towers. Alexander Mokrzecki and his wife Michelle lost Michelle's brother, retired Colonel Ron Golinski, who was in the Pentagon close to the point of impact. Colonel Golinski supervised ROTC programs across the entire country.

The thoughts and prayers of the Amherst community remain with all of those who have lost friends and family, and with those who await word of others still missing. We extend sympathies to all who have been affected by these devastating events. Even those of us who have not been personally touched by this tragedy find ourselves facing a world vastly different from what we imagined it to be.

Here at Amherst, the first few days of the semester have been far from normal. Faculty, students and staff have come together as a community many times in the past week—at an all-campus meeting in LeFrak Gymnasium on the day of the tragedy, at a noontime service and a night-time candlelight vigil on Friday, September 14 (the National Day of Remembrance and Mourning), and again at 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday, September 18, to mark the one-week anniversary of the first attack. These gatherings, at their best, have helped us all to reach out for solace to the community that surrounds us.

Students, especially, have drawn widely on the resources available through the Counseling Center, the Dean of Students' Office and the Religious Advisors. Out of respect, many activities were cancelled in the first days after the disaster. Most professors restructured their classes so as to allow students to discuss fears and concerns. The Resident Counselors found that students wanted to talk late in the dorms almost every night. We have tried to be flexible with students having difficulty with academic work and supportive of those struggling with uncertainty and loss.

Within the past few days, College activities have begun to return to a semblance of normality. Athletic teams resumed competition on Friday, September 14 (although students who felt unable to participate were not obligated to compete), and we began each of our weekend contests with a moment of silence for those affected by Tuesday's events. The student religious groups held a joint meeting to discuss last week's events and release a statement of solidarity. Students, faculty and staff are participating in blood drives, on and off campus. Last Thursday, a group of students organized a rally urging a non-violent response to Tuesday's attacks; I expect this is only the first of what will be many similar events on all sides of the issue. The Five College Presidents joined together to urge students—and, indeed, all Americans—to remain tolerant in our patriotism. On our own campus, we have reaffirmed our commitment to diversity and community, and all of us are working to ensure that the close connections that bind us to each other are nurtured by conversation and caring in the complex aftermath of our great national tragedy.

As we look ahead, it is clear that there is a need for education around the issues raised by recent events, and several faculty members and student groups are organizing seminars and lectures on a range of political, religious and social topics. It is also apparent that our nation's response to Tuesday's terrorist attacks could create splintering and divisiveness within the campus community—and, indeed, throughout the world. At Amherst, we will work hard to ensure that ideas are discussed in an atmosphere of civility and tolerance, and that community members continue to treat each other with the same kindness and support that have been so evident in the past few weeks.

Although we must carry on, we cannot—and will not—lose sight of what has happened. Homecoming Weekend, always a special time at Amherst, will be especially meaningful this year, as we reflect on the meaning of community, and on the distinct nature of the community formed at Amherst. We will continue with plans to mark the successful conclusion of The Amherst College Campaign that weekend, but we will modify the previously announced schedule to include a 10 a.m. Service of Remembrance and Community that will honor all of those lost on September 11. I hope that many of you will be able to join us on campus that weekend, or for Family Weekend November 2-4. (Look for updated schedule information for these and other College events on the Amherst Website.)

I will write again later this year with other campus news. In the meantime, as we reflect on the horrific events of recent days and face the uncertainty of the months ahead, we are reminded of the importance of bringing people together to discuss important ideas, the value of diversity and exposure to those whose backgrounds and experiences are different from our own, and the strength that is to be found in community, especially the small, personal and intellectual community that is Amherst College.

All my best,

Tom Gerety