Lynne Byrne
Pace University

Associate Dean of Lubin

Joeta Kacou


Joeata: So whatís your name?

 

Lynne: Lynne Byrne.

 

Joeata: Where were you born Lynne Byrne?

 

Lynne: I was born in, um, Mount Vernon, New York, which is in Westchester County.

 

Joeata: Gotcha, um you, you grown up there?

 

Lynne: I grew up there, in um, not in Mount Vernon but in New Rochelle which is also a small city in Westchester. So I lived there until I went away to college. Then after college I started to live in New York City.

 

Joeata: Then you worked directly at Pace University?

 

Lynne: Well I worked for, after college, I worked for a year in a corporation, and then I started working at Pace University. So I really made my career here.

 

Joeata: So um, what was your connection with the World Trade Center? Is it a location you used to go for any reason?

 

Lynne: Well, as you know I work at the Pace Downtown Campus so weíre very close to the World Trade Center or um, what was the World Trade Center. So it was a place that I would go if I was um, taking a certain subway line, so you'd stop there. Youíd sometimes go for shopping or when there was nice weather, they would have, they had a big plaza, so theyíd have little snack stands and they would have some entertainment out on there, the plaza, so we go there occasionally. And then, for about four or five years, maybe wrong on the dates, but four or five years prior to September 11th, we had what was called, um, the World Trade Institute of Pace University. And that was in one of the Twin Towers, I forgot which one--either one or two--was up on the fifty-fifth floor. And so, from time to time, we would have meetings up there or events up there. And the World Trade um, Center was also a destination. It had a very nice restaurant, which is called "Windows on the World." So for special events, it was, it was nice to go up there occasionally and, you know, have dinner or have a cocktail or something like that. And in the other, particularly for friends, or acquaintances who were coming from out of town, another destination of the World Trade Center was the Observation Deck. You know, youíd go up and kind of look out. Um, so you know, it was some place that I didn't go to everyday but, I certainly, visited it quite frequently, let's put it that way.

 

Joeata: Okay, um, where were you on September 11th?

 

Lynne: I was right where youíre sitting today. Um, was in my office. So I got to my office, early that morning. So I must have gotten in, I donít know, 8:15, 8:30. And there, right across the street, is 150 Nassau Street and that, building that you now see was being renovated at the time. So there was a lot of construction going on and there were, you know, I donít know if thereís cranes, but there, it was a lot of noise out there. And, when the first plane hit, no one knew that is what happened. Um, my initial reaction was that something happened with the building right over there, um because it was so loud it sounded like something exploded. And um, now I can't remember whether or not, uh, the fire engines, you heard them right away or not, but the first thing was an explosion. And I believe my door was open, and there was, there were a few people on the floor. And there was one colleague who had an office down um, that corridor; um, there was another colleague on the other side of the building. And you know, we all kind of not, it wasn't a full, fully staffed, work force yet because it was prior to nine o'clock. And we didn't know what happened but pretty, pretty soon, um, one colleague's mother had called and saw something on television and told us that it was a small, it was a plane that went into one of the towers. And my thoughts, right then, were it was probably a small plane, you know, that wondered off course. And I remember thinking that, gee, you know, on all these years these towers are so big and you know the weather is, the weather that day however was brilliant it was not a cloud in the sky, uh, but you would think that, that, you know, that it wasn't inconceivable that a small plane would wonder off and somehow, you know, have an accident.

 

Joeata: Yeah.

 

Lynne: So, you know, it's basically what we thought, it was tragic but, um, and I had been at Pace also for the explosion that happened maybe five years earlier. So we were used to, not used to but, you know, things that are somewhat confined and, you know, tragedies which are limited in scope. So that's kind of what we were thinking at that point. And, so we were concerned but, you know, I went back, back to, um, you know, doing what I was doing. And um, itís funny how your memory is somewhat not as sharp as it was, you know? I don't remember how, how, um, long, um, the distance between the first plane and the second plane. But all of the sudden, you know, the second plane, we didn't know it was the second plane but we heard another explosion, and my thought at that point, was that, that was the fuel from the first plane.

 

Joeata: Oh.

 

Lynne: That, you know, was somehow connected to it; no way did you think that there was a second plane that went into the second tower. But I didn't have a radio but lots of other people got calls, and radios, and so finally you real, you knew. And, you know, people, you saw people running up, um, from the World Trade Center, on, um Broadway and Park Row. And there was a very poignant picture; I think was in US News and World Report, that just showed people standing out right where Starbucks is.

 

Joeata: Uh-huh.

 

Lynne: And looking up and you know that, that's, kind of running and looking at the same time. And it was just running away from that, we knew that something really horrible had happened, and at that point, we knew that, that uh, the two planes had gone into the two towers. But, no one really knew what was happening, and so rumors were, uh, that there were, that Lower Manhattan was a target, there were more uh, buildings in this area that were gonna be hit. You know, we then heard that the Pentagon, so it was, you felt like all of a sudden we were under siege.

 

Joeata: I know.

 

Lynne:  And, you know, the university, you know, really a number of the companies down here, I mean, now weíre more, you know, weíre better prepared for something like this, but, you know, I guess we had thought you know, you prepare for a fire, fire drills and stuff but nothing like this. So the first response of our security, um force, was as you would with a fire drill, is you have to leave the building. Um, and, I guess, I don't know if it didnít make sense to me, or I think that there were some conflicting um, signals whether to leave the building or not. But as it turned out they didn't want us to leave the building; that was a good thing. Some people did but um, most of us on this floor did not. And um, this was while the towers were burning and there was a lot of confusion. We um, actually I think, just, the towers were burning and then the first tower fell. And that, I think was the scariest thing. I donít think, even when you knew that the planes went into the towers, you didn't think that they were gonna fall down somehow you know?

 

Joeata: Yeah, yes.

 

Lynne:  And you sort of thought, okay, people will able to get out. You know, you just didn't envision these icons, these huge structures falling down, you know? And when the first tower fell, it was as if, you know I have a window here, you couldn't see anything. It was like, I've never been in a volcanic explosion but thatís what it would seem to me like. The sun, I told you it was a brilliant day, you couldn't see the sun anymore. It was all smoky and cloudy and there was ashes all over the place. It was and at that point, we were a little, we were scared. You see, we were like, oh my God! This is, so we left the floor. Everybody was required to leave the floor. And they, um, meaning security guards for those of us that were still, some people had, had left, you know. They wanted us to go down, to where there weren't any, uh, windows, and stuff like that. And um, so, uh, the gym was one site and Schimmel Theater was another. Some of us, I donít know, didn't feel, one of those being me, um, that I didn't want to be, if our building was gonna be hit, I didn't really want to be down in the gym.

 

So they then kind of changed it, so we just, I was in, you know where the cafeteria is, thereís another, um, dining room which is faculty and staff dining room so a bunch of us were in there. And you know, I went around to make sure my staff was safe. And we brought them all together, so we were all together. Students were in uh, the cafeteria um, students were in the gym and you know, it wasnít just faculty and staff. And, uh, you know Iím kind of telling it from my perspective. And um, so as we were going into the faculty dining room, you, you felt the whole place shake again. And this is maybe an hour or so um, after that, and the next, the next, you know, tower fell. And the same thing happened, I mean, everything was, you know, dark again. Not that it really cleared up, but the sun had started to come through, and now everything was dark again.  And you were just like, and meanwhile people were streaming out of Lower Manhattan, you could see them going across the bridge, because they, the city had shut down all mass transit. So there were no subways, there were no buses, everything was in lock down. There were no cars; they weren't allowed to come into this area. And I donít, I think they locked down everything, no cars, cars could exit Manhattan but no cars or trains could come into Manhattan. So the question was, at this point, um, what are we gonna do? How are people gonna get home? So um, you know we meanwhile weíre listening, the food service at that time was Sodexho, they provided us, everybody who was there got a free lunch so that was very nice.

 

Joeata: Yeah.

 

Lynne: And we were listening to, you know there is a TV in the cafeteria, um and people had, some people had portable radios. Cellphones really didn't work. So with the portable radios and security was good, you know they provided us with updates as what was going on. I guess it was so, you know, everything happened in the morning. It must have been about 2:30 or so, um, different groups of people were deciding, you know, staff, faculty and students that wanted to get home, were going in groups. And so a couple went, everybody went together, were going across, those who lived in Brooklyn were going to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and then were arranging to have somebody come pick them at the other side of the bridge, so that was one contingent. We had a whole bunch of people that leaved in New Jersey, so the only way to get to New Jersey was to go down to the piers and take a ferry across, so a group did that and took it across. Um, you know, I lived, and I still do, on the Upper East Side.  And then there were some folks that lived in Westchester County, that had to take a, to get to Grand Central to take the train. At this point they didn't know how they were going to get home because the trains weren't running. And um, and the subways weren't running, so we figured well, uh and this must have been as I said about three oíclock. Um, I probably could have stayed overnight,

 

Joeata: Um.

 

Lynne: Um, because they, they, you know, the students that were in the residence halls did stay overnight that night. The president came down and actually stayed with them and Dean O'Grady stayed with them and everything. But I felt that, you know, I just really wanted to get home. So I left, I guess it was, itís probably, about eight of us who headed out and we said we would start walking. And it was just the strangest walk as you left. And somebody from the biology labs had the foresight to get, and one of the nice things that the maintenance crew did at Pace, immediately--I was talking about all the ash and everything because it just covered everything-- closed down our vents. Which made it warm, but it really protected us because it meant that the air from outside, and all the ash and soot would not be able to come in. So that was good, so the air that we were breathing was basically okay. So, but to go outside, we didn't want to breathe in everything. So we had the masks that you see, you know doctors wear, so we all had those masks on and we started to walk, and walking uptown. And have you been over to Chinatown?

 

Joeata: Yeah.

 

Lynne: Okay, so we walked that way up through the Bowery. And as we passed the Manhattan Bridge, which is over here, you would just see swarms of busloads of police coming in, and firefighters coming in, and rescue workers coming in. You know, it's just, it was like a war zone, you know. And there was police, roped off the area and everything. So we walked up through the Lower East Side, and into the Village.  Now the Village, Greenwich Village, was just far enough away that, you know, they weren't in the midst of it, you know? They were watching perhaps on television, whatever. So, in the Village, there were people, you know everybody was very concerned but it was a different kind of scene. There were people eating and it was a beautiful day, sitting outside and you know and what have you. Then the other strange recollection was, as you might recall, um there were no airplanes. That they grounded every airplane in the United States. So no airplane could fly or anything. That was probably about twenty, forty eight hours. So, it was quiet! There was like no traffic, at all, hardly. And there were, you could hear planes, but there were air force jets, you know, just fly, fly-overs and you know, it was kind of eerie. And so, I guess we got as far as, I don't know, it might have been 14th Street, and someone had said that the subways are running. But they're running above 14th Street so, but only on the west side I think, cause that's where we ended up taking. So we got on the subway and those that were getting off to go to Grand Central, got off at 42nd Street and got over to Grand Central, and they started running trains out of Manhattan, so they were able to get trains into Westchester and they got home. And I took a train, it was interesting, one of the staff that I was with, was a new staff member, and she had only started as an academic counselor five days before all this happened. And so she lived on the Upper West Side, so I went up with her. And I guess she lived at 100, up near Columbia so I guess she went up to 1141h Street. I got off at 96th Street cause I live in the Upper East Side and I walked across the park. I finally made it home, I guess it was probably about six o'clock at night and you know I had like ten messages from people.

 

Joeata: Uh-huh.

 

Lynne: And I had made a date, you know earlier before all this happened, to go out to dinner with a good friend who lives in the area. And we decided to keep it, and I'm glad we did, because, you know it was nice to be with somebody um but there was like no traffic at all. I mean, it was like deserted, and all you hear, for the next couple of days really were just the airplanes going up, and then um. The next couple of days, all you saw was smoke, the smoke from the World Trade Center burning. And you could see it, and, you know, you could smell it. And it was an awful, awful reminder of what happened. And then, um, Pace was closed, so this happened on a Tuesday and we didn't go back to work until the following Wednesday, I believe. So we were closed, might have been the following Thursday, for little more than a week, down here. And when we came back, we were very fortunate, you know, because of the foresight of the maintenance. We didn't have a lot of the ash inside, because we were one of the few businesses or, you know, establishments that were able to open that soon. We were a triage center um, during, you know, the first week or so, but we were able to open and when we came down here, everything south of us and east of us, and west of us was covered you know, just covered with ash, and like the Starbucks that didn't open for months. And the closer you got to the site, um things, you know, stores and stuff, were just inches and inches of um, debris. It just, and for, I don't know, months, you got off the Lexington, I take the Lexington Avenue subway, I get off at Brooklyn Bridge. It was just this horrible, horrible smell of the burning that went on. You know, it was smoldering for so long and the University was good enough, they provided us with air filters. And cause depending on the way the wind blew, you know, the smoke, the smoldering, would smell it in the University, but, so. So I, I you know, in a sense I was fortunate I wasn't at the World Trade Center, um, you know. Thereís others that have um, that really saw things that, you know, were very upsetting. You know the whole thing on some days it feels like it didn't really happen, you know, how couldíve something like that happen? And in other days, it all, it all just comes floating back.

 

Joeata: Yes, so when the university reopened how was the feeling of the staff and the students?

 

Lynne: It's a good question. Um, there were some students, that maybe weren't here that day, and they were out of school for, I mean, we, you know, they lost, we lost ten days of the semester okay, so it's a challenge to try to make that up. So there were some that it was business as usual, you know, they were back in class, and they were interested in their internships and whatever business...

 

Joeata: Their grades...

 

Lynne: Their grades, you know whatever. And the university, the counseling center was working overtime and had sessions to help us deal with everything that was going on meaning faculty and staff and student but also for us to help students through this. And um, you know all faculty, you know, were kind of given a sheet of ways to start up um, you know to allow for some time for everybody to talk about it and, you know, to recognize that something really horrific had happened. Um, and then there were students that it was just so upsetting what theyíve been through that they didn't want to come back to Lower Manhattan. So to the extent possible, we arranged for transfers up to Pleasantville for some students. Um, some students that lived locally, or even those that didnít, we arranged for them to attend a school for that semester, to finish up the semester at a school they feel more comfortable at, at that point. But the majority of the students came back, and, and those that just wanted to withdraw for that semester, we allowed them to do that and, you know, gave them back their tuition. We cancelled it out. So, you know, we were surprised actually that things got back to ďquote on quoteĒ normal as quickly as they did, and we really didn't, we really didnít lose a lot of students. And, you know uh, students and everybody it seems as though, if you look around you know Lower Manhattan is more vibrant today than itís ever been. You know, with new businesses, restaurants opening up, um, shops. More, more people live down here than they did prior to 2000, you know, September 11th, which is kind of amazing.

 

Joeata: Yes, some people think that it is a good way to show the strength, and overall strength, and strength of New Yorkers to recover from such a disaster. So in your life is like there a period before September 11th and after September 11th? Did it change something in your life?

 

Lynne: Um--I think what it did is--it made me realize that you really can't be safe, the way you felt before, that there were always certain things that could never happen. That you know, things that you counted on always being there, like the World Trade Center or the Empire State Building, or Statue of Liberty. And that weíre in a country at war um, you know we didn't, at least from our perspective, we didn't do anything to provoke this. Where did this all come from? And for terrorists to be able to reach in your own neighborhood, in my own backyard, and do something like this is pretty scary. And that, for a time, I didn't want to, I didn't want to go anywhere.  I suppose, you know, there were some people that didnít want to come into New York. Um, you know I didn't want to leave you know, or go fly on a plane. You just wanted to kind of feel safe and stay put and get back to normal. And I think it made me um, as a person I guess, feel more empathy, particularly during that period for what everybody was going through. And, you know, I kind of relate to people's challenges and obstacles in their way of a little, little bit different way.

 

Joeata: What was, how many times did you wait to go to the Ground Zero?

 

Lynne: I'm sorry?

 

Joeata: How, how long did you wait to go to the World Trade Center after this?

 

Lynne: Um, I guess we were here, it was pretty soon after we got back. I guess somebody had said they didn't want everybody going down to kind of gawk at the whole thing, but it's pretty hard not, not to wanna. I don't think I went right there, I wanted, I walked down the area and that's when I saw all the devastation. I walked as far as Fulton Street I guess. And then periodically, you know, it was very depressing to walk there, but on the other hand you wanted to see too. So it's a combination of those two things.

 

Joeata: Was it a way to really believe what happened? Or?

 

Lynne: Um, um, I believed it happened. It wasn't that. It was just a, I guess to see, I guess just to see it um. I donít know--I donít know, I only went really once, and I had no, now itís um, I mean I guess when it gets fixed up and they have the Freedom Tower, and  itís a real memorial um, it will be a place to go, to pay, you know, and send your respects. In those early days, it was more just to see the devastation you know, it's why people basically went. So I just went that once. And then, as stores and near there came back on line such as if you have gone to Century 21, really. That was closed for almost, I don't think they came back until like April of April of 2002, maybe even later than that. So that was right near there so when those stores came back on, youíd end up going over there, and you can kind of see, you know, what was happening, you know. How they had cleared it out. And, you know, the different construction, have you been over there?

Joeata: Yeah, to see the memorial and to the church too.

 

Lynne: Yeah, the um, St Paul's chapel. It's pretty amazing that, that church wasn't hurt at all.

 

Joeata: Yeah, they say it is like a miracle.

 

Lynne: Right, right. I don't know if they saved everything but one of the things that, and maybe they do this in France as well, when there is a tragedy. This is a tragedy of huge proportions. People like to leave notes, so there was, notes and letters and the whole, it was a fence right near St Paul's, I think itís still there, the fence anyway, it was just covered with messages. There were other sites that you know, they were just messages from people just showing their grief. In a real way, there were messages that ďif youíve seen so and so, you know, let me know.Ē But that, you know, I am one of the fortunate ones though. Pace lost some alumni and a couple of students that I did know. I can't remember if we um, but I mean, as an institution thatís so close, we didn't lose a lot. I mean any life is hard to lose but our staff that was in the World Trade Institute that was on the 55th floor all got out. And so to me, we were very fortunate that we didn't lose more. Thereís a memorial right in the courtyard as you know which list all the people that were affiliated with Pace. We had commemorative services shortly after, you know, the place was packed. But I didn't lose anybody that was close to me, so I was fortunate, thank God.

 

Joeata: What did you think of the reaction of the government, the country to this attack? And the response to terrorism?

 

Lynne: Um, I think the immediate response of New York City and Mayor Giuliani um, to the emergency was a good one. I mean he was a very stabilizing influence, um, you felt that you really had somebody that was quote unquote "in charge". Um, I am not a big fan of our current president. So um, I think once he became aware of what happened, you know, there was a time when they were kind of flying him around in a plane. I think that our immediate reaction which was to ground all the planes and you know, kind of put everybody in lock down was correct. I think, letting the American people know that things have really changed and that we need to be more vigilant and that the different security measures that are now in place in the airports and everything, was certainly needed. Um, I thinking trying to find Ben Laden makes some sense, I mean, itís clear that Al Qaeda was the root of this. And so us going into where we thought he was in Afghanistan, probably was the right thing to do. However, the rest of it, the war in Iraq and all that stuff um, I don't think has really any connection to 9/11. I'll never forget reading the newspaper um, and all of a sudden, the front page was talking about us going to war with Iraq and I am like, where did this come from? And, you know, and since then, we are seeing, bit by bit that there really isn't a big connection between what happened on 9/11 and the war in Iraq, but that's another story. So um, Iím not, in answer to your question, I donít agree that we had to change some things the way we were, you know, business had to change, I'm not sure I agree with everything thatís been done quote unquote in the name of the "war on terror".

 

Joeata: Do you want to add something about the subject?

 

Lynne: Um--I don't know, I think I've said everything.

 

Joeata: Thank you very much!

 

Lynne: Oh, you're very welcome!

 

 

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