Sunday evening, May 26, 1982
At Ole Miss, classes were out and the campus deserted. I don’t recall why my friend, Claudette, and I were still on campus. Ole Miss is a magical place, but we knew the spell could not sustain us after graduation. I suppose we just were not quite ready to say goodbye. As we walked underneath the giant magnolias by the tennis courts, Claudette began to sing:
“Pack up all my care and woe Here I go, singing low Bye-bye, blackbird.”
This memory is as vivid to me as the final scene for movie fans in Casablanca or Gone With the Wind. Claudette was singing, but there was a voice whispering to me, “it is time for you to leave.”
Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001
For my entire working career I had risen before 5 a.m. and been at my desk by 7. In January of 2001, I joined Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower, 105th floor. The week prior to Sept. 11, the chairman of Cantor Fitzgerald informed me that he wanted me to work his hours. This would mean starting at roughly 9AM and staying into the evening. Sept. 11 will be the first day for this new, and completely unfamiliar, working schedule.
Old habits die hard, so that on Sept. 11, I’m wide awake at 5 a.m. I toss and turn, and try to force myself to stay in bed until I hear my sons, (2 and 5 years old at the time), stomping around upstairs at their usual wake-up time of 6. Finally, I give up wanting for them begin getting ready for work.
At 7 a.m., I’m dressed and ready to go. However, the boys were still sleeping, the house is quiet, and the bottom floor deserted as my wife is still asleep as well. Every day for the last 25 years, I would have already been at my desk by this time. My commuting plan was to leave home at 8 a.m. so that I could maximize my time with the boys and still get to my desk by 9. Today and from here on, I would not be home from work before the boys were in bed, so mornings would be the only time I would see them. But I’m fidgety. I’m ready to leave, and there is no sign that the boys are stirring.
I look at my watch. Then time seems to stands still as I ponder my course: leave now or wait for the boys to wake. I wanted to go, but there was a voice whispering to me, “Don’t leave yet, you won’t see them tonight.”
A couple of minutes later, I hear the noises of which all parents are familiar: pitter-pattering, flushing toilets, bickering, thundering footfalls down stairs.
By 8 a.m. when the boys left for school, I had been through a three-hour long battle between the forces of “leaving for work,” and those of “waiting for the boys.” Then more delays: I had to stop for gas. Then I got stuck behind a school bus. Traffic was usually heavy because many people were just back from vacation. I made a poor choice in picking a toll booth lane. A minor accident snarled traffic on the Newark Bay Bridge.
By the time I reached my parking garage on the Hudson River, I was highly agitated. As I pulled in, I glanced up at the Twin Towers, and they loomed back. It was about 8:45, and it seemed that I would be in the office by 9 after all.
As I walked outside and away from the garage, I noticed clusters of people pointing skyward. I overheard speculation that a small plane hit the North Tower. From my office on the 105th floor, thick smoke billowed from windows and flames licked at the sky. The impact zone was below my floor, but it was a direct hit on the company cafeteria. People getting their morning coffee saw the plane coming directly at them. It was clear that anyone on the higher floors was in trouble. I tried to call my wife to let her know that I was not in the building, but the cell lines were already jammed. At 9:03, I heard the wine of a jet engine, and then saw the second plane hit the South Tower.
At the time, I did not appreciate the voice or the consequences of taking the path I chose. Today, I recall looking at my watch and Claudette’s song so vividly that it sweeps me back to those moments. No one knows about Claudette’s song, but I’m often asked about the other path on Sept. 11. My answer is that I do not fear what could have been, the voice gives me courage for the path I am on.
Tim Heaton, BBA ’82, is from Southaven, Miss. Over a thirty year Wall Street career he has traded proprietary arbitrage for several major banks and hedge funds in New York, Chicago and London. Joining Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center in 2001, he luckily was late for work on the morning of 9/11. In the aftermath, Tim would design the automated market-making systems that enabled the firm to get back on-line. The technologies he developed have been awarded nineteen US Patents to date. Most recently his research and development have concentrated on leveraging big data and mobile technologies.
Tim is the proud father of Dr. Allison Pace of Shreveport, La. and two teenaged sons who reside with him and his wife Linda in Morristown, NJ. He is very active in volunteerism and donates his leadership and technical skills to several community and youth service organizations. Tim can be reached via email at email@example.com.