All of Us

Response to Mike Critelli's Reflections on 9/11

by Carol Harnett

Carol Harnett is a health and disability expert. She is the president of the nonprofit organization Council for Disability Awareness. Carol is a radio host, speaker, consultant and writer. This letter was written to Mike in response to his reflections on the anniversary of 9/11.

MakeUsWell edited Carol’s words for clarity and length.



Thank you for sharing your reflections on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. As someone who grew up on Staten Island, I lost fathers and mothers of childhood friends, high school classmates, and countless acquaintances. My closest friend’s husband was an architect for the Port Authority, who saw the first plane from his office window before it struck the tower. He got about half of his coworkers to run into the stairwell with him as the plane hit about 6 stories above them. The stairs disintegrated under his feet as he descended. He suffered intense survivor guilt and never fully recovered psychologically. He has not set foot in Manhattan again. The Port Authority accommodated him and allowed him to use an office in NJ.

The description of how you handled 9/11 for Pitney Bowes struck a strong chord for me. It’s why I asked to interview you for the first time 20 years ago for my column. You were gracious with your time and wisdom.

I was in Scottsdale, Arizona on 9/11. I was scheduled to give the opening keynote address for the leadership of the American branch of Seventh Day Adventists. To my shock, they wanted to go on with the meeting after they held a private prayer service. The preacher who spoke said: “Lord, We believe this is your second coming. Please assume us into heaven now.” That was a surreal moment.

I worked for The Hartford at the time and we had 300 people in Tower 6, which fell after the first two towers. Fortunately, all our people got out safely, but the office manager never returned to work due to psych issues. It took us 6 days to find him. He had gotten in his car and driven to his grandmother’s home in South Carolina.

One thing I will always remember was Ramani Ayer, The Hartford CEO, calling me. He assured me that he would support me in doing anything I needed to get home safely. American Express set up a special number for all employees who were away from home. When I decided to drive cross country with two strangers, I called AmEx every morning, and they found us lodgings. It was clear the staff was working around the clock, yet they never once complained. I was talking with one of the agents as we were driving East through Texas. I simultaneously saw my first commercial jet in the air and a tractor trailer carrying caskets. It was both a positive and overwhelmingly sad moment. The AmEx agent cried with me as I described what I saw.

This is a long and disjointed note to simply say what a privilege it is to know you. You were and are a leader who always was well ahead of his time.

Warmly,Carol A. Harnett Speaker, Writer, Health & Disability Consultant