It being the sixteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, I tend to get somber this time of year. I knew many of the NYPD Officers slain that day. I knew some of the firefighters, the Port Authority Officers, and a few of the Cantor Fitzgerald employees as well. But one loss that day struck particularly close to home. My wife Janet was a Police Officer in the 13th Precinct, and a friend to Police Officer Moira Smith, as was her partner, Lissa Navarra. While my sense of loss over the attack was palpable, it was pale in comparison to the loss my wife and Lissa were suffering.
Lissa was asked by Moira’s husband, Jim, to deliver a eulogy. I had the honor and great fortune to be able to collaborate with them both to come up with this. I hope I did Moira justice.
Eulogy for Police Officer Moira Smith
Delivered by Police Officer Lissa Navarra
I first met Moira Smith when she came to the 13th Precinct from the Transit P.D., after the merge of the departments in 1996. I remember that we hit it off right away. As special as this new friendship made me feel, it occurred to me, after seeing her make easy friends with the other people at the precinct, the connection between us had much more to do with Moira than it did me. Moira had an ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room. You knew when she asked you how you were doing, she wasn’t just making idle conversation. She genuinely wanted to know, and cared about the answer. She had the ability to truly listen, making the simplest exchanges seem just a little more.
“Hey, chickees, what’s going on?” was her daily greeting when she walked into the females’ locker room. Moira displayed a generosity and concern for others in her everyday actions. She was the first to step up for another cop in trouble. She would rally support for the various 10-13 fund raisers for other cops in need. Whether it was selling tickets and chance books, or encouraging others to do the same. All with a level of humor and modesty.
Her selfless nature and humility were clearly shown to me when Moira was pregnant with her daughter, Patricia. We girls threw together a small baby shower for her in the muster room of the precinct. She was genuinely surprised and deeply humbled by this small gesture. She seemed overwhelmed and almost embarrassed for having us do this for her. It was this spirit of generosity, humility and selfless concern for others that allowed Moira to excel at every facet of her job.
Moira loved being a cop—from the menial tasks of writing summonses, or preparing the endless stream of reports, to the more exciting aspects of arresting criminals, or rescuing someone in danger. She demonstrated a calm professionalism, doing it all—without complaint. This was her job. She knew it wasn’t perfect, but she accepted it for what it was. She always gave her best efforts to see the work was done, and done well.
Moira’s personal bravery was without question. There was nothing and no one she would shy away from. Confrontations are inevitable in our line of work. Most of these she could diffuse, but some confrontations are destined to end badly. When it came time to be the police, Moira was backing down from no one. Fearless might not be the right word, but it’s the first one that comes to mind.
When you think of Moira, you automatically think of her husband, Jim. They came from Transit to the 13th Precinct together. It was impossible not to notice them, to see Moira’s face light up at the mention of Jim’s name. She was effusive in her praise, and delighted in telling stories about some small kindness Jim did for her. She would regale us with anecdotes about their relationship, and loved to show us the beautiful jewelry Jim would buy for her. You could tell she prized these tokens far beyond their value as possessions. It was the sentiments they represented she held so dear. I remember one February, Moira was excited that Valentine’s Day was approaching. It was also her birthday. She was pleased the day could be about them both, and not just her. You could tell they were right for each other. They were best friends, and the center of each other’s universe.
They spent their precious time together travelling. They were always jetting off somewhere, or dragging people with them in their infamous Winnebago. Then Patricia was born. I told Moira her life would change when the baby came. Their travelling days might be over for a while. Moira was determined that this would not be so. It turns out, I was the one to be mistaken. The three of them went everywhere together, and Moira became the foremost authority in the precinct on family vacation destinations. Her devotion to her family could not be overestimated. It only took one glimpse at the inside of her locker to see the joy and pride she derived from the pictures of their excursions taped there. She was always adding new pictures, pointing them out, and sharing a new happy memory.
Moira’s conduct at the World Trade Center on 9/11, should have been a surprise to no one. In 1991, when Moira was still with the Transit Police, she was a first-responder to the Union Square Subway Disaster. Without a concern for her own safety, she descended into the collapsed subway station to free and rescue the trapped commuters. Knowing Moira, I’m sure she never thought what she did that day was anything special. She did what she did because it needed to be done. Considering this, it’s little wonder that Moira spent her last hours on September 11th, saving the lives of countless other people. She knew the risk. She ignored it, again and again, diving back into the horror to save just one more person. Until the South Tower came down upon her.
At times since, I am angry. At others, deeply pained. I keep returning to the iconic photo of Moira rescuing that bloodied and dazed insurance executive, that appeared in the Daily News. This was a last record of Moira, made in her final moments. In that frozen moment of time, she is still alive. There is still time for her to save herself. The look on her face is calm, intent—not panicked at all. I find myself wanting to yell at the picture, to tell her to get away. Then a sense of futility washes over me. I know, even if I were standing right in front of her, screaming at her to flee, nothing would have prevented her from running back into the building to save just one more.
I know in my grief I am just being selfish. I miss Moira terribly, as we all do. We female officers still gather in the locker room and talk about how much we miss her. We continue to place little notes and expressions on the outside of Moira’s locker, to keep her close to our hearts. Just like she kept her husband Jim and her daughter Patricia close to her heart on the inside.
My faith tells me she is with God and her parents. She is at peace. Where she is, there is no pain. The pain is left for us to bear. I will take comfort in the many happy memories I have of Moira. I am amazed at how much life she managed to squeeze into so short a span. But then I remember Moira’s motto; “Life’s way too short—gotta have fun.”
Love loyalty, faith, hope, dignity and courage; these are some of the qualities we would all hope to have. Moira had them all in abundance. I am thankful for having known her. I thank you for letting me share my memories of her. Having done so, I am left to consider, given the totality of all that was Moira Smith, I’m not sure hero is the right word, but it’s the first one that comes to mind.
I helped write this almost sixteen years ago. I still can’t read it without choking on my emotion. I take comfort in remembering those who gave their lives that day. Many of us are still dying, poisoned by the air, in an effort to find our comrades trapped beneath the rubble. The NYPD added 33 new names to the Fallen Officers Memorial wall in One Police Plaza this year—all from 9/11 related illnesses. So, this is an ongoing tragedy whose cost cannot yet be tallied. Every day the butcher’s bill goes up. One can’t help but wonder when it will be our name on that wall. But I know, from talking to my peers from that time, even if we knew this would happen, we still would have gone. When I start to lose faith in humanity, as I sometimes do, I am comforted to know that there are still people willing to put others’ before themselves—willing to give the last full measure of their devotion.