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April  11

A Huge Void

Glen Ridge resident Ron Clifford was one of just a handful of 9/11 family members who testified yesterday before the jurors who will decide whether to sentence Zacarias Moussaoui to death. Clifford's story is not only tragic, but layered with strange coincidences. He was visiting the World Trade Center that morning and narrowly escaped death, but returned home to discover that his sister and niece had been on the second plane to hit the towers.

"It's a huge void that will never be filled," Ronald Clifford testified. (CNN)

The Barista wrote about Clifford's story in The New York Times on Oct. 7, 2001. For those who don't have Times Select, here it is.

JERSEY; Clinging to a Sliver of a Loved One's Life

By DEBRA GALANT (NYT) 861 words
Published: October 7, 2001

RON CLIFFORD, who lives in my town of Glen Ridge, is an Irishman, and he has the legendary Irish gift for gab. One story leads to another. Coincidence winds through his tales like a silver thread, until a dozen different people each become part of a great shimmering spider web of connections. But he has never had a story to rival the one he has about Sept. 11.

Ron escaped from the Marriott in the World Trade Center -- after stopping to help a woman who had been burned head to foot -- but his sister, Ruth McCourt, and his niece Juliana, 4, were in the second plane, which hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. Compounding the horror, Ruth's best friend was on the first plane. Both were going to a spirituality conference in California, but flew in separate planes because Ruth wanted to use her frequent flier miles.

Many of the victims have become larger than life in their death, but Ruth McCourt seems to have been larger than life even in life. She lived in a magnificent house, with three beaches, built on the foundation of an old casino in New London, Conn. She had a meditation garden and owned a day spa in Boston. She was intimately involved with the details of Ron's life, telling him what tie he should wear for a business meeting on Sept. 11, which was -- in another amazing coincidence -- scheduled at the Marriott Marquis in Midtown, but moved to the World Trade Center at the last moment.

Ruth's memorial service was attended by 1,200 people, and afterward 700 people came back for a meal on her front lawn. Ruth's survivors did their best to make it the kind of gathering Ruth would have approved of.

"Her memorial had to be exactly how she would plan a party,'' Ron said. ''Ruth wouldn't, for any event, have plastic. It had to be silverware.''

Ruth was certain of the rightness of her convictions, and so was everybody else. She often began her proclamations with the words, ''In the life'' -- an Irish expression that means ''in this life.'' Juliana was beginning to turn into something of a force herself. One morning, about a week before the tragedy, Ruth told Juliana to eat her Cheerios.

''And Juliana turned around and said, 'Yes, your highness,' '' Ron said. ''Ruth called me right away and said, 'Where is she getting this?' ''

In the middle of our interview, Ron pulled something from his pocket.

It was a piece of glass, tinted black, irregularly shaped, but smooth on the edges. It was a piece of the World Trade Center, and now Ron carries it all the time. He held the glass, about two inches long, and turned it over and over in his hand.

''It gives me some solace to have something,'' Ron said. ''Some remembrance. It's tempered glass. You can hold it as tight as you can and it's not going to cut you.''

The glass was given to him by a New York City policeman who went back to ground zero to retrieve some ashes for Ron to send back to a brother in Ireland. Ron had once done a major favor for the policeman's mother, and in return her son, Tommy the cop, got the ashes and the piece of glass for Ron.

And yet the favor turned itself inside out, and Tommy found people clapping and waving for him as he left ground zero with his package for Ron.

''I've had people kick me, spit at me, call me every name under the sun,'' he told Ron. ''And now, for the first time in my life, I'm feeling human.''

More coincidences: the weekend before the attack, Ron met a maintenance engineer from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, recently retired, who told him story after story about the 1993 bombing. And on Sept. 11, Ron's daughter Monica turned 11.

The amazing thing is, Ron still smiles. Ron still laughs. He is having trouble sleeping, but he has gone out on his sailboat. His house is full of flowers and cookies that neighbors have brought or sent. Nobody can visit Ron without an offer of cookies.

''Do we have cookies!'' he says with a laugh.

Years ago, Ron and Ruth had a conversation about death. They agreed that focusing too much on grief would prevent a loved one's soul from getting to the next life. Instead, Ron came up then with the concept of good thoughts called ''rads'' -- he had been reading about Madame Curie -- that would send a loved one on.

Ron plans to take have his piece of glass engraved. On one side it will say, ''What a sister.'' On the other, ''In the life.''

April 11, 2006 in Major Dudes | Permalink


These stories personalize the horror perpetrated by the cowards of Bin Laden. Killing innocent civilians will never give one's political weight more gravitas.

Posted by: Iceman | Apr 11, 2006 7:18:22 AM

OMG. I remember reading this piece at the time. Small world.

I also remember seeing that poor woman on fire from the enclosed walkway over West St. & a man trying to bat out the flames on her. I wonder if that was Ron Clifford. As I recall several people helped her at various points.

Posted by: crank | Apr 11, 2006 8:48:07 AM

I hope there will be little or no debate among the jurors as to applying the death penalty here. The convicted defendant hardly seems someone who might profit from 30 years or so in which to "reflect" upon his crimes, after all. (Even were lasermike to visit him.)

Posted by: cathar | Apr 11, 2006 9:49:25 AM

What an achingly sad story. These wounds will take forever to heal.

And, crank, I'm so sorry you had to be there on that horrendous day.

Posted by: latebloomer | Apr 11, 2006 9:57:24 AM

What a touching story. I was getting chills reading it. My father too experienced major horror that day with what he had to volunteer to do and I always think of what he did and how strong he had to be. I remember like it was yesterday when we were all gathered at my mothers waiting for him to come home. He walked in, said nothing, sat ont he couch and just cried. It was the first time I saw my dad cry.

Posted by: Pat | Apr 11, 2006 10:01:44 AM

It was a very sad day.
One of my wifes' friends, her husband went to his once, yearly breakfast w/ some friends at Windows. The wife was in denial for many months after that.
Several customers, one I recall, his wife came into the store a few weeks
later. She started to ask me for a brand of Dog Food and just broke down.
She said her husband did all that & said I was always helpfull.
Another customer was in one of the neighboring buildings that came down. She was told to stay inside..but she decided to leave, made her way to the ferry along w/ some others.
That AM, my wife was on the way to Newark Airport (she was on Rt 78) & the whole thing was happening in front of her.
I've had many nightmares/sleepness nights since then.. I've been told that the fire at my store ( a few months earlier) combined w/ the Towers.

I wish Ron Clifford the best.

Posted by: JT | Apr 11, 2006 10:36:44 AM

Wow...you have my simpathies JT. My husband is an Electician and he was working on the roof of the new wing they were adding on at Newark Airport so yes, he watched the whole thing unravel. The next day my huband and other members of the local were down there volunteering on the site. My aunt made it out of building tower 2 with 5 min's to spare. She left on her own....they were told to stay in the building. My dad, who is a NY city bus driver was at his (at the time) depot at Chelsea Piers and immediately he and his coworkers rushed to volunteer. One of the things he had to do was to bring, hospital workers and victums to and from the hospital in his bus. When that 3rd building came down (forgot the name of it) my dad was right there and was so close that it knocked his bus on its side. My sister works in Manhattan but luckily was far enough away that she could just stay in her building but close enough that they watched everything happen.

There are so many tragic stories out there. So many people affected.

Posted by: Pat | Apr 11, 2006 10:52:45 AM

I want to share a story (and irony)about Ron that he probably does not remember , but I do.

On Monday September 10th, just 12 hours before the horrific events of 9/11, I was in the auditorium of the Ridgewood Upper Elementary School as one of the parents helping out Jessica Sporn on that season's Gaslamp Players production, when all of the sudden there was a total power outage and the entire school went black. It was a little nerve racking as we were trying to find kids, calm them down and get them out. Within a minute of the blackout occuring, in walks Ron (who lives nearby) with a bunch of flashlights, handing them out to the parent volunteers and helping us get the kids out, making sure that every kid was out & safe. Unfortunately, it mirrored the events (on a much smaller scale) that were to happen just 12 hours later.

I want to assure everyone, Ron is the real deal.

Ron, thanks then and thanks for testifying at the trial. Stay strong


Posted by: mp | Apr 11, 2006 1:20:16 PM

I remember reading about Ruth and Juliana in the days after 9/11, as well as seeing their photos as part of various news stories.
So devastating, the loss that day. There really are no words.
May they all rest easy, knowing that the people who loved them continue to advocate for them.

Posted by: Kimberly Cicala | Apr 11, 2006 3:26:27 PM

I met Ron not long after that tragic day and the way in which he handled the pain and loss was and will always be an inspiration to me. For years after, he and I kept in touch, usually with him calling me to tell me a good joke (well, usually good). He found that laughter had been his friend before and remained so after. I often hoist a pint of Guinness in his honor.

Posted by: Jerry Cordasco | Apr 11, 2006 4:57:49 PM

Read all of that with tears in my eyes for so many reasons...my heart and my prayers go out to him and his wonderful family.

Life is too short and unpredictable to sweat the small stuff.

Posted by: Karen | Apr 11, 2006 10:28:07 PM

Read all of that with tears in my eyes for so many reasons...my heart and my prayers go out to him and his wonderful family.

Life is too short and unpredictable to sweat the small stuff.

Posted by: Karen | Apr 11, 2006 10:28:29 PM

Read all of that with tears in my eyes for so many reasons...my heart and my prayers go out to him and his wonderful family.

Life is too short and unpredictable to sweat the small stuff.

Posted by: Karen | Apr 11, 2006 10:28:31 PM

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