Column: Remembering the victims of Sept. 11

So many names, so many faces. Names that could fill a small town’s phone directory, faces that could pack a small college’s yearbook.

Do you remember the names? Can you picture the faces? Or has the passage of time turned your mind into a Cuban dock, with more going out than coming in?

Here are five names: Ronald Orsini, Valsa Raju, Michael Parkes, Brooke Jackman, Bill Dean.

Five people who perished on Sept. 11. OrsiniLet’s meet them. With help from the New York Times, let’s take a quick peek into their lives.

Ronald Orsini, 59, a bond broker at the World Trade Center, had studied ballet as a boy and loved to dance. But when he wasn’t dancing, his wife, Arlene, considered him a klutz. She asked him, "What would you be like if you hadn’t danced ballet?"

Klutz or not, he had a positive outlook on life, the type of eternal optimist who, on Sept. 11, might have said, "Stop worrying about it. It’s only a plane. I barely heard the crash. My office is only half-full of smoke. How many bonds did you say you wanted?"

Valsa Raju, 39, an Indian native, worked for a financial company and
was raising two children: Sonia, 9,Raju
and Sanjay, 5. Known for her
contagious smile, she enjoyed decorating and gardening. In a small backyard patch, she grew tomatoes, eggplant,
and — like any good Indian — hot peppers. (They helped fire up her
curry dishes.) Did she pose a threat to anyone? None whatsoever. Her friends considered her harmless, even those who had tasted her curry.

Michael A. Parkes, 27, had an MBA and a good job as a senior
accountant, but his passion was working with young people. He
volunteered as a scoutmaster, camp counselor and leader of a church
youth group, somehow finding enough time to sleep.

He hoped to eventually return to his native Jamaica and build a school.
He wanted to help young black men achieve success through education —
and not by majoring in basketball. "Don’t dream about the NBA," he
would have told them. "Dream about an MBA."

Brooke Jackman, 23, an assistant bond trader, was blessed with an
amazing memory. A decade after a family event, she could remember not
just what people had said, but also what they had worn. "Uncle Bob looks great," she might have said. "He wore a similar outfit to my 10th birthday. Similar jacket, similar shoes, similar toupee."

A voracious reader who often visited bookstores, she planned to quit
her job and pursue a master’s degree in social work, believing that
there’s more to life than making money — a radical concept on Wall Street.

Bill Dean, 35, a vice president for an insurance firm, once completed
the New York City Marathon. And even more phenomenal than that, he
called his parents every day.

As a father of two infants, he appreciated what his folks had done for
him. Besides, a daily chat with Mom and Dad meant lots of free advice,
eliminating the need to call the psychic hotline. Never mind that he
created an unattainable standard for other men, especially the ones who
felt proud about calling home every other year.

Ronald, Valsa, Michael, Brooke, and Bill. Five hardworking people. Five innocent victims.

Multiply them by 700, add thousands of shattered families, millions of
bitter tears, and you may get a hint how tragic Sept. 11 was.

(This column was first published in slightly different form in September 2002)

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. LESSON of 9/11 : Humanity always wins and no amount of religious bigotry/fanaticism will crush oneness of human race. No religion and the mercenaries of tribal and clanish thinking will ever succeed in breaking the resolve of human race to better the quality of life on this earth and not wait forever for a pseudo messiah to come to take them to heaven.
    We are indebted to the families of those who perished in senseless barbaric activities of misguided animals who flew planes into magnificent buildings on that fateful day. Their blood will not go in vain but is a first step in opening the minds of youths of this world to real face of so-called superior (?) religions (?) and their masters who live on other people’s hard earned money through tithes.
    Blood shed on that day was not white, black, brown or yellow; or of Jew, Hindu, Christian, Parsi, budhist, atheist, muslim or any tribal clan but of humanity and the color was RED – a warning sign – no amount of hatred will change the color of human oneness. Bond is so strong to be broken by traders of hatred and complex of superiority(?).

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