Those two words echoed across the nation in the days, months and years following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. And while many Americans use the phrase as a way to honor the memories of those who died, the families of those who didn’t come home that day cling to it as a daily reminder to carry on the legacy of their loved ones.
Patricia Smith, the daughter of two New York Police Department officers, was 2 years old on that Tuesday morning. The Queens, New York, native was home with her father watching a movie while her mother, Moira, was on duty when the first airplane struck the World Trade Center’s north tower.
“My mom was the first police officer to get on the radio and report the incident,” said Patricia, who doesn’t recall anything from that day but has since learned about her mother’s heroic actions. “She went to the World Trade Center and took several witnesses to the police station so they could give their statements about what they saw before she returned to the site.”
By the time she returned, the World Trade Center’s south tower had been struck by a second airplane. Without hesitation, she began assisting. Her husband learned about the attack from a family member and immediately rushed to the scene after leaving Patricia with family.
Officer Moira Smith climbed numerous stories of the south tower’s stairwell and helped guide countless people out of the building.
“We were told by one man who passed by her that she did her best to keep everyone calm while also having a look of determination on her face,” said Patricia. “He said that he knew he was going to be OK once he saw her.”
The man who passed her was one of the last to exit the south tower before it collapsed.
Officer Moira Smith was the only female NYPD officer to die on 9/11.
Although Patricia doesn’t have many memories of her mother, she has learned over the years about the selflessness, cheerfulness and strength that shaped her mom’s life and career.
“My family always described my mom as the life of the party,” said Patricia. “She was always able to bring up anyone’s mood and could talk to anyone about anything for hours. That’s why she really loved her job and doing what she could to give back to her community.”
Like her mother, Patricia aspires to help others in her own way. After playing numerous sports growing up, she has combined her love of sports and calling to give back to pursue a career in athletic training.
“I knew early on that I wanted to get into athletic training, and I chose to come to UA because it has one of the best athletic training programs in the country.”
Now in her second year of UA’s athletic training program, she has worked with the Crimson Tide football program as part of her clinical work and hopes one day to work for an NFL organization. Wherever her future takes her, she will undoubtedly continue her mother’s legacy of serving others to the best of her ability.
“I aspire every day to be like my mom,” said Patricia. “She knew early on 9/11 that there was a good chance that she wasn’t going to make it out of that situation, but she didn’t turn around and leave like a lot of people did. Her bravery and strength was truly heroic, and if I could embody just half of that I think I’d be a pretty good person.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.