Kathleen Hughes: Almost Losing the Love of Her Life


On Sept. 11, 2001, I received a wake up call from my mom, Joanne, in Pennsylvania. It was a little after 6 a.m. here in Palo Alto. She asked me where (my husband) Tony was. I said he was on his way to New York but had to make a stop in Pittsburgh for an unexpected meeting. She said, "Please turn on the TV."

I turned it on and remember the shock and disbelief at what I was seeing.

I called Tony and was not able to reach him. As I continued to watch the reports and saw the second Tower get hit, I felt like the world was coming to an end. My husband and I had met in New York, and I had lived there for several years before coming to California. I had this flashback of all the times I had been in the Twin Towers, most recently to celebrate my sister's 50th birthday. I had a photo from just two weeks before of my 5-year-old daughter, Frances, in the roundy-round entrance of Tower 1.

Still not able to reach my husband.

He was supposed to be flying from Pittsburgh to New York. When he got to New York he would be staying directly across the street from the World Trade Center. His office was downtown, two blocks from the World Trade Center.

I wondered if I should take the kids to school. Peter was a sixth-grader at Jordan; Charlie was a fourth-grader at Juana Briones; Frances was a kinder at Walter Hays; and Henry was a preschooler. I remember wanting to see someone who would tell me that everything was going to be OK.

I took the kids to school, and all my mom friends were trying to hold it together. I remember talking to some of the moms at preschool and being surprised that some of them had not even heard about it. It was the only thing I could think of.

At around 11 a.m., California time, I finally heard from Tony. He was OK. It turned out that he had stayed in Pittsburgh and was in meetings 60 miles from where one of the hijacked planes crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside near Shanksville. He was really scared and confused and not exactly sure of what was happening. Who was? I was glued to NPR and CNN.

Tony was not going anywhere. Luckily, he was safe and also in the same town as most of my family. My sister Beth went to get him to bring him to her house.

Over the next two days, with no air traffic allowed and all planes grounded, it was amazing all of the connections and kindness we felt. My dear friend Anne Barry's husband, Hank, was in Washington, D.C. Hank decided to drive a rental car back home to Palo Alto along with some of his colleagues. OK, "Road trip!" Hank and his work buddies picked Tony up at a Pennsylvania Turnpike off ramp. Tony, the love of my life and the best dad ever, was on his way home.

They all took turns driving, all the while keeping in touch with their families and friends back here in the Bay Area. Anne and I kept in touch whenever either of us got some news from the road.

I will never forget the sound of the door opening, the screams of my kids shouting, "DADDY!" and the feeling that I was somehow so lucky. I know exactly where Tony would have been if the attack had been later in the day on the 11th or the morning of the 12th. And, I would very likely be writing a very different story.

I am so thankful to be able to remember all those hours and days and to feel lucky all over again.

When I think about the whole concept of time, for me, it is always in reference to how life was before Sept. 11 and after Sept. 11.

Kathleen Hughes

Northampton Drive

Palo Alto

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