Wineka column: Tragedy of 9-11 hit close to home for one aunt

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SALISBURY — All the media coverage leading up to today, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is enough to make anyone scream “Uncle.”
But it makes me think of an aunt.
Every time television replays the passenger jets flying into the twin towers or shows the towers collapsing in the gray clouds of steel, dust and humanity, a piece of Salisbury’s Ruby Beaty goes with them.
It hurts every time, and you can imagine how hard it has been to avoid those images, short of turning off the television or stopping her newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
Look at our newspaper today, special section and all.
Beaty’s nephew Todd Isaac was working in the north tower Sept. 11, 2001. He was on the 103rd floor in his job as a mortgage banker and partner with Cantor Fitzgerald, a bond trading and investment firm.
No other company suffered the losses Cantor Fitzgerald did that day. The firm, which occupied the 101st through 105th floors of the north tower, lost 658 employees — three out of every four people in its New York offices.
The hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into One World Trade Center created an “impact zone” that spread from the 93rd to 99th floors.
No one above that zone survived.
“The pain is still there, watching the tower go down again and again,” Beaty says. “To see that — he was there. I was talking to his mother when the second plane hit. … It was really horrible, really horrible.”
Isaac, born in Salisbury and a 29-year-old star in his family, is still considered Rowan County’s lone victim of the 9/11 attacks. That’s probably not fair — or accurate to say — when you think of how 9/11 had so many tentacles reaching out by degrees and affecting people across the nation.
People such as Ruby Beaty. People such as her sister and Todd’s mother, Betty Greenard Isaac.
Living in Salisbury, Betty died July 4, nine months after the terrorist attacks. The diagnosis was cancer, but Beaty will always believe her sister died of a broken heart.
Todd was lost in a terrorist attack against a country born on July 4, the day his grieving mother would die. Beaty can never escape the irony.
Beaty recently sent an email to Cantor Fitzgerald, whose rebuilding since the tragedy has been heroic and successful. Her email asked that her nephew “never be omitted or forgotten” by the firm.
In 1972, Betty Isaac had returned home to Salisbury while she was pregnant with Todd, and he was born here before they returned to their New York home in the Bronx, where Todd grew up.
On occasion, he would visit his Aunt Ruby and other relatives in North Carolina. Beaty remembers him wearing off the tires on his Big Wheel as he scooted around Hawkins Loop.
Betty received her undergraduate degree from Livingstone College, then her master’s degree from Lehman College in New York City. She and her husband, Odell, had two boys, Odell Jr. and Todd. Odell Sr. died when Todd was in college, and his mother moved back to Salisbury.
After graduating from junior high, Todd Isaac had several offers to attend prestigious private high schools, and he chose Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. It is the nation’s oldest boarding school.
Isaac then went to Holy Cross and played on its basketball team.. He graduated from Holy Cross with a degree in economics in 1994, going on to work for Dean Witter and Chemical Bank before joining Castor Fitzgerald in late 1995.
Isaac had taken his mother on a vacation to Hawaii in 1999. He also visited her in Salisbury the Easter before his death. That was the last time Beaty saw him.
Betty Isaac spent a week in New York with her son in the July before the 9/11 attacks.
“This was a young man that any parent would have been proud of,” Beaty adds.
The day before the 9/11 attacks, Todd Isaac had taken a day off to be with his girlfriend, who was having a minor surgery.
As Beaty and her sister watched the twin tower tragedy unfold on television that morning, they both held on to a desperate hope that Todd had some reason not to be at work. Deep down, they knew better.
Sitting now in a wheelchair in her den, Ruby Beaty realized this past week she was near the same spot 10 years ago, trying to convince her sister over the telephone that Todd “can’t be in there,” that he would call when he gets the chance.
“But, of course, he never did,” she says. “She knew that day when he didn’t call her there would be no call.”
Beaty eventually took a cab to her sister’s apartment and spent the rest of the day with her. Other family members — there were six girls and a boy in the Greenard family — also came through the week to hold vigil with Betty.
She drove up to New York six days after the attacks to take care of her son’s affairs.
Beaty says her nephew was a fun-loving, intelligent guy, “who lived life to the fullest.” There’s a memorial at Holy Cross for Todd Isaac and the eight other alumni who died on 9/11.
Because of her back condition, Beaty wasn’t able to attend Todd’s memorial service in New York Oct. 20, 2001. It was held at Marble Collegiate Church on West 29th Street.
The memorial service’s program spoke of Todd as an avid sports enthusiast who loved football, golf, deep-sea diving and snow boarding. “He enjoyed nothing more than debating sports with friends,” it said.
Our media obsession with 9/11 springs from a belief that we all probably share: It’s a day that should not be forgotten.
But I feel for all the Aunt Rubys out there.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or