DUFFY: National September 11 Memorial a sign of hope

Americans still remember

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our nation. Sept. 11, 2001, certainly was one of the darkest days in our country’s history, when 2,977 people from 90 countries were murdered at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. I will never forget the horror of that morning as I lost my son, Christopher, and 66 other employees of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, where I was president and co-CEO. Although notably less media attention has been focused on the events of Sept. 11 this year than last year, to those of us who lost loved ones that day, this anniversary is no less significant. We will never forget those we lost, and we need to remind those who were not as directly impacted that our country cannot be casual about the threats that exist to our freedom.

Keefe, Bruyette & Woods lost 67 of its 224 employees that day, including Chairman and Co-CEO Joseph Berry and five of its nine directors. Our surviving employees resolved to rebuild the firm despite our huge financial, physical and emotional losses. I think what we achieved in the weeks, months and years following is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Not only did we rebuild our U.S. franchise, but we expanded into Europe in 2004 and Asia in 2009. We also took the firm public in November 2006. I think that in many ways, our firm’s restoration mirrors that of New York City. The leadership that was provided by Mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani and Michael R. Bloomberg, Gov. George Pataki and President George W. Bush in the weeks and months following the attacks of Sept. 11 was critical in enabling New York to recover and rebuild. I think we need to remember how we all came together in those days and put aside whatever differences we might have had. Many of our politicians would be well-served to work together and gain strength from each other to help our country move forward in these uncertain times. The same could be said globally, as we seem to be suffering from a real lack of political leadership around the world.

The National September 11 Memorial, which opened a year ago, and the accompanying museum will be what the Statue of Liberty and Pearl Harbor were for past generations. They are symbols of the hope individuals have to make the world a better place. The memorial already has attracted millions of visitors in its first year, and I have no doubt that it has helped many people recover from the emotional scars that were inflicted 11 years ago. Mr. Bloomberg and Joe Daniels, president of the memorial and museum, deserve enormous credit for making this memorial a reality. I am especially proud that serving on the board of the September 11 Memorial are KBW Chairman Andrew M. Senchak; Paula Grant Berry, widow of KBW Director of Research David Berry; and Thomas Johnson, who lost his son Scott, a KBW employee.

I am proud to be an American, and I feel extremely fortunate that my 93-year-old mother decided to come to the United States from Ireland 72 years ago. The opportunities that were afforded me as a first-generation American who was raised in the Bronx and has lived all of my 63 years in the New York area are a great example why America has been referred to as “the land of opportunity.” I sincerely hope we can continue to say that in the years ahead.

Our current politicians and those elected in November need to understand that if they don’t begin working together to resolve this country’s fiscal and financial challenges, their inaction will be their legacy. That simply would not be in America’s best interests and not what the rest of the world needs.

While one could go on about the challenges the United States faces, today, Sept. 11, 2012, is really a day about remembrance. The Irish have a proverb that says, “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” That is how I feel about my son Chris and his loss.

God bless America.

John G. Duffy is vice chairman of KBW Inc.

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