From an article in The Australian News (LINK): “IT TOOK 12 and a half years. Twelve and a half years to open the door she’d never dared to touch since that dark awful day.
But one morning a couple of months back, Dorry Tompsett went there. The widow of Australian computer scientist Stephen Tompsett opened that door.
“It took a lot,” Mrs Tompsett says with an audible sigh. “But one day I got up and I said ‘OK, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this. I’m going to open that closet door.’ And I did it.”
Stephen Tompsett’s closet had been completely undisturbed since he left on his hour-long commute from the Long Island commuter suburb of Garden City on the morning of September 11, 2001. The suits, the shirts, the socks, the shoes. Nothing had been touched in 12 and a half years.
Mr Tompsett was one of 11 Australians who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. He didn’t work in the World Trade Center but was attending a technology conference at the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the north tower. He was delivering a paper when the first plane struck, unleashing an unsurvivable, fiery hell.
Hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 opened up a huge gash between the 92nd and 98th floors which severed all three stairwells. No one above the impact zone survived. They didn’t stand a chance.
Dorry Tompsett lost a husband that day. Her only daughter Emily, born after Mrs Tompsett had previously endured several miscarriages, lost a dad. A wonderful dad, too.
“In the summer when we used to go the beach, Stephen would build sand castles with Emily,” Mrs Tompsett recalls. “They were very, very precise sand castles. He knew when the tide was going to come in so he made the castle with moats so Emily could watch them fill with water. Then the waves would come and knock them over.”
Stephen Tompsett met his future wife in the late 1980s when he worked for an Australian software company which had a contract with the financial information company for which Dorry worked. One thing led to another and they soon fell in love.
By 2001, Stephen had become senior vice president of technology for Instinet Corporation, an electronic equities broker. But he never let seniority change who he was. Mr Tompsett used to walk around the office in socks, firstly because it was comfortable, but also because it helped humanise him, helped make him one of the gang.
A year or so before his death, Stephen Tompsett penned what he called his manifesto. Its purpose was to spell out his core values, to remind himself how to apply those values in all aspects of his life. Here’s part of that document:
“I will work at a company whose core values are aligned with mine. My core values are integrity (and its siblings trust and openness), family, excellence (quality, continuous improvement), and teamwork (inclusion, collaboration, respecting, caring for and supporting teammates). I am passionate about these values; they are not abstract words on a paper — I get very upset when I realise I have not lived them, and also if I feel like the organisation I am part of does not care about them.”
Stephen Tompsett lived those values too, as Dorry Tompsett explains. “He had a big job but he was always home by 8 o’clock at night to spend time with me and to read to Emily.”
All that reading and fatherly attention clearly paid off. Emily Tompsett is now a university graduate in her early 20s who teaches maths and computer science in at a high school in Boston. Like father, like daughter.
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