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September 11: Tom Newby Remembered

On September 11, 2001, I was in Oakland International Airport at 6 a.m. waiting for a flight to Kansas City that never took off. Along with hundreds of others in the airport that morning, I watched the twin towers of the World Trade Centers fall. I wept with strangers, I waited until noon for luggage—baggage handlers had no experience with sending luggage the other way back then—and went home to hold my family and try to make sense of something that will never make sense.

On September 11, 2007, at around noon, I was sitting in a Florida hospital operating room that had been transformed into a makeshift morgue with Vicki Newton, my publisher at the time time for Powerboat magazine. We sat there together with the body of photographer Tom Newby, who had died a few hours earlier in a helicopter accident near Sarasota Bay, saying goodbye to a man we cherished and trying to make sense of something that will never make sense.

To compare the two tragedies, separated by exactly six years, would be unfair both to those who perished in the September 11 incident and Tom Newby, who perished in the September 11 accident. One was an act of madness and evil. The other was … I don’t know what the other was, beyond a horrible accident.

Both have their anniversary tomorrow.

There is nothing I can say about what happened on September 11, 2001, that many have not said better already. I felt the loss that most Americans felt—I didn’t know anyone in particular who died, I just felt great sadness, and more than a little anger, at what had happened to my fellow—and very innocent—Americans.

My fellow Americans. That means something. Really means something. Because as the poet John Donne put it, “No man is an island, unto himself. Every man is a part of the continent, a piece of the main.”

As for Tom Newby, my friend and colleague for almost 13 years, I can say this. He was a great photographer and friend. He was even a better father. And he is missed to this day, as if this day were just three years ago, by everyone who knew him.

God’s speed, my dear old friend. Your friends love you. And we miss you so.