News

Strength of Faith Brings Comfort to Australian Parents of 9/11 Victim

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
8 Sep 2011

Steve Tompsett with his father, Jack Tompsett,
daughter Emily and beloved wife Dorry on a visit to Rome

Stephen Tompsett, the brilliant Sydney-born computer scientist died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001. For his parents, who will commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death and the 3000 others who died that day at the St Mary's Cathedral Interfaith Memorial Service on Sunday at 4pm, their grief over the loss of their beloved son remains as raw and as painful as ever.

"Some days it feels like 10 years, others it feels like yesterday. It is something that is with us all this time and will never leave us," his mother, Rae Tompsett says.

Rae and her husband Jack are now in their 80s and for most of their married life have lived at Merrylands attending mass each Sunday at St Margaret Mary's Catholic Church. Steve, as their son was known, went to St Margaret Mary's Catholic Primary School and grew up with the same strong Catholic faith as his parents.

"Steve was very committed to his faith," Rae says, adding that at the time of his death he was an active member of his parish in New York where he was a lector, Eucharistic Minister, on the Parish Stewardship Committee and a member of the Board of St Joseph's School, where his ten 9-year old daughter,Emily, was a pupil.

Steve Tompsett and daughter Emily were close
and did everything together

For Rae and Jack, as well as their granddaughter and daughter-in-law, their strong faith together with the support of their family, friends and their parish priest, have helped them come to terms with the shock of Steve's death and the terrible events of September 11. But the gaping hole left by his passing remains and the grief at his death is never far away.

"Every time you turn on the telly there seems to be a reminder," Rae says. "But Jack and I are truly blessed to have our faith, and although we still feel Steve's loss every single day, we are also warmed by our memories of all the good things he did, and the wonderful times we shared. He lived a very fruitful and productive life, and for that we have much to thank God for."

At Sunday's service at St Mary's Cathedral,hosted by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell who will be joined by Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, Senior Rabbi The Great Synagogue, Sydney and Sheikh Dr Mohammed Anas of Sydney's Zetland Mosque, Rae and Jack will be reunited with other Australian families who lost loved ones in twin towers attack.

"The day will be painful but I know the service will also bring us comfort and be consoling," Rae says.

Among the more than 2500 expected at the Cathedral's memorial service on Sunday will be the Consul General for the United States of America, Mr Niels Marquardt and the former Australian Consul General in New York, Mr Ken Allen AM. For all those present it will be a time of prayer and reflection, remembering all those who died that terrible day in September 2001, and to pray for peace.

The North Tower where Steve was trapped
was already burning when the second plane
crashed into the South Tower
on September 11 2001

And as Jack and Rae prepare to mark the anniversary of their son's death here in Australia, Steve's American-born wife, Dorry will be attending the special dedication ceremony of the newly completed 9/11 Memorial of Remembrance that has been built over the site of the World Trade Centre. With waterfalls, reflecting pools and covering 8 hectares, the memorial carries the names of all those killed.

Stephen's name is listed among those who died in the North Tower when the first of the hijacked commercial jet liners crashed into the building's upper floors. Also listed in this section are the names of the passengers and crew of those who were aboard the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11.  But for the first time since her father's death, Jack and Rae's 19-year-old granddaughter, Emily will not be with her mother on the anniversary of her father's death.

Ten days short of her 10th birthday when her father died, Emily is now almost 20 and studying for a degree in maths and science. Unable to attend the dedication ceremony, due to college commitments, Emily will instead mark the anniversary by attending mass. Then next week she will travel to the Tompsett home in Garden City, Long Island to join her mother for the family's annual "evening of remembrance" when relatives and friends join together to pay tribute to her father and to the others who died on that tragic and unforgettable day.

For Emily and Dorry, who visit Rae and Jack in Sydney each year and keep in close touch via email, "the evening of remembrance" has become an important annual tradition. In what has also become an annual tradition is Steve's former colleagues' custom of kicking off their shoes on 11 September and walking around their New York office in socks.

A keen golfer, Steve with daughter Emily
and Australian dad, Jack Tompsett

"Steve always kept his office door open and anyone could go in and talk to him," his wife Dorry explains. "He wanted people to feel comfortable with him. He also used to take his shoes off and walk around in his socks."

At 39, Steve was Vice President of Technology for Instinet Corp, an electronics equity broker. Arriving in New York in 1986 on a three week business trip, he had met and fallen in love with Dorry and had never left. His office was in New York's Times Square some distance from the World Trade Centre. But on the morning of 11 September 2001, instead of being in his office in new York's mid town he was at a technology conference at the Windows of the World Restaurant at the top of the World Trade Centre's North Tower. Then at 8.46 am New York time, the airline plunged into the tower several floors below.

Unsure what was going on, Steve emailed his wife Dorry on his palm pilot: "Something's gone wrong. Can you put on the TV, find out what's happened and let me know?" Desperate emails from Dorry followed. But Steve remained calm to the end, his final email saying: "In World Trade Centre, above the problem, staying still under instructions."

But by then the floors beneath him were ablaze and moments later the entire structure imploded and collapsed.

Steve's body was never found.

A short time later, his family established the Stephen K. Tompsett Memorial Fund for Technology in Education to continue his volunteer work which had always exemplified his love of children and his desire to improve education, especially in his fields of expertise such as science, maths and technology.

After the collapse of the Twin Towers some bodies,
including Steve's, were never recovered

In the past 10 years, the Fund has not only equipped classrooms with wireless internet access, provided software and hardware support and training for students, provided laptop commuters to schools and granted scholarships to high school seniors, it has provided monetary grants to outstanding college students who have excelled in maths, science and/or technology.

With her own love of science, computers and technology, Emily is very much her father's daughter.

"As she has grown up, she has become more and more like her father. I can see so much of her father in her," says Rae. "She was incredibly close to her father. They did everything together. Now she is following in his footsteps at college and majoring in computers and the sciences."

Each time Emily arrives in Australia with her mother to visit her grandparents, Rae admits she is startled by how much she resembles Steve. "It's the way she holds her head. It's her dry sense of humour, the things she says and the maturity in her eyes."

Rae is extremely proud of Emily's maturity and the way she has dealt with the loss of her father.

"She also has a lot of her mother in her, Dorry's outgoing personality and Dorry's strength. But above all Emily is very much herself," Rae says, recalling how she used to worry that Emily might feel she had to emulate Steve as a way to keep his memory alive. "While we think it is important she remember him, it was equally important she didn't grow up living in his shadow."

Steve's Catholic faith was important to him and his family.
Here wife Dorry, daughter Emily and Steve
with a friend in St Peter's Square

Not that Rae has any worries on that score anymore. "she is a fine young woman and we are so very proud of her."

But it is Emily's own words about her father that are perhaps the most telling - and most poignant.

On a Stephen K. Tompsett Guest Book website where friends and family share memories and condolences, she often pens her own message. On 28 October 2008, she wrote: "I enjoy reading everyone's entries and learning even just a little bit more about my dad. I so wish I could have known him half as well as many of the people who have signed this book. People always tell me how like him I am and I wish I could share my likeness with him now. I wish I could talk to him about my life. But then again, don't we all."

She followed this with another message on January 28th  2010. Now 18 years old, she wrote: "Yesterday was your birthday. It was the first one I wasn't with mom. I miss you so much, my friends here are really supportive, especially Andrew. You'd really like him. I'm doing lots of cool things in math and comp sci and I really wish I could talk to you about them. That'd be awesome. But I know you're here with me, looking over my shoulder. I love you and I miss you."

Other Australians who lost their lives on September 11 2001 and who will be remembered on Sunday at St Mary's Cathedral's Interfaith Memorial Service are:

Kevin Dennis, 43, Qld
Alberto Dominguez, 66 NSW
Elisa Ferraina, 27 NSW
Craig Gibson, 37 NSW
Peter Gyulavary, 44 Vic
Yvonne Kennedy, 62 NSW
Andrew Knox, 29 SA
Lesley Thomas, 40 NSW
Leanne Whiteside, 31 Vic
May They Rest in Peace

Pictures from the Stephen K Tompsett Memorial Fund website. To find out more about Steve, his family, his dreams and to donate to the fund established by his wife Dorry to help children and the advancement of technology in education log on to http://www.stevetompsettmemorialfund.org/