'Teflon man' moves on and finds new joys in life
As PETER CHENEY reports in the fifth in his six-part series of profiles, Brian Clark is a rarity among World Trade Center survivors: His charmed life goes on much as before.
By PETER CHENEY
Wednesday, March 13, 2002
NEW YORK -- As one of only four people who escaped from above the 80th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower, Brian Clark knows he is a lucky man.
The Canadian-born businessman's decision to head for the ground instead of following his co-workers to the roof saved his life. (The weekend after the attacks, The Globe and Mail dubbed him "The man who went down instead of up.")
But Mr. Clark has been fortunate in less obvious ways as well. As Sept. 11 victims go, he is a sort of Teflon man. The attacks have left a long wake of breakdown, dysfunction and despair, but Mr. Clark has apparently survived psychologically unscathed.
He still works in Manhattan, in a temporary office on the 16th floor of a high-rise next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal.
The view from his window takes in the landscape of ground zero. The hijacked jet that crashed into the WTC's South Tower where he was working last September flew right past the building where he is now.
Asked what he thinks about that, he looks out the window and imagines the jet streaking by.
He shrugs. "I'm okay now," he says. "I've moved on."
Mr. Clark returned to work just eight days after the disaster and has been at it ever since. He looks and seems no different than before his ordeal, a youthful man of 54 with an easy humour and an appreciation for people. He lives in the same place, he wears the same clothes, and he is employed by the same company, Euro Brokers, an international brokerage firm he has worked for since 1973.
Now, however, the senior executive is in charge of a division that did not exist before: the Euro Brokers Relief Fund, responsible for collecting and distributing money to the families of the 61 people who died in the company's offices on Sept. 11.
The skills he once applied to trading financial instruments such as derivatives are now devoted to getting and investing money for widows and orphans. In February, he sent out nearly $500,000 (U.S.).
For Mr. Clark, the relief fund has helped serve as therapy. "I think it has allowed me to feel like I'm doing something."
In the days immediately after the attack, his senses were heightened. He noticed things he never had before -- the way papers would skitter along the sidewalk, the shape branches made against the sky, the smell of rain on the pavement. "I appreciated all the beauty. It was everywhere."
Over all, if he has changed, he says, it has been for the better. "I enjoy life more now, I concentrate on the present. That has been a tremendous joy."
Mr. Clark grew up in Ontario and married Dianne, his high-school sweetheart. After university, he landed a job as a trader at Euro Brokers' Toronto office. The next year, the company moved to New York. Mr. Clark and his wife bought a home in Mahwah, a picturesque New Jersey suburb, and raised four children there.
Twenty-seven years later, on the morning of Sept. 11, Mr. Clark was in his office on the 84th floor of the South Tower.
Shortly before 9 a.m., the first plane hit the North Tower. A huge plume of fire unfurled right outside Mr. Clark's window. Within minutes, the second plane flew into the South Tower, about five floors below his office.
Windows exploded and walls began caving in. As people started trying to get out, a voice came over the emergency announcement system. "Tower Two is secure," the voice said. "There is no need to evacuate. If you have begun to evacuate, please return."
Mr. Clark's friend Bobby Coll returned to his office, and that was the last time Mr. Clark saw him. A group of Euro Brokers workers huddled, trying to decide what to do. One woman insisted they had to head to the roof, where they could be rescued by helicopter.
Mr. Clark suddenly stepped out of the debate, because he heard someone calling for help. He found a man trapped behind some rubble, helped him out, found a stairwell and began heading down. At the same time, the rest of the people from his office were climbing toward the roof -- and their deaths.
He feels no guilt for having survived when so many others did not.
"I made a decision based on the data I had. And so did they. I feel deeply saddened that they made the choice they did. I have accepted the fact that I'm here. Everybody was doing their best. Everybody had the same data to work with."
After escaping the building, he walked to the ferry terminal. Less than two hours later, he was back at his house in New Jersey. He was calm -- almost unnaturally so. His first emotional break came five days layer, on Sept. 16, when he was asked to address the congregation at his church. Standing in the pulpit, he suddenly broke into tears. So did many of those sitting in the pews.
In the following days, for the first time in his adult life, Mr. Clark erased all thoughts of work from his mind. "I couldn't engage. It was a very strange experience." He refers to the movie Top Gun, in which Tom Cruise plays a cocky young fighter pilot who briefly leaves combat after his co-pilot is killed.
"It was like I was drifting away. The world I had been part of was continuing, but I was no longer in it."
Still, he returned to work on Sept. 19. His first job was to help the company find a new home. By this time, the technical wizards had the company's computer systems up and running in a temporary space, but Euro Brokers needed a new office where it could recreate the all-important trading floor.
The company moved into an office in 1 New York Plaza, next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. Within a few days, Euro Brokers was operating almost as though nothing had happened.
To customers, the transition appeared nearly seamless. But the reality was far more complicated. Mr. Clark attended 15 private memorial services for his closest friends, plus a large memorial for all 61 dead employees in October.
"It was very difficult. But it's different than losing members of your family. As close as these people are to you, they are not as close as your family. That's what has spared me."
Since October, Mr. Clark and other members of the Euro Brokers staff have attended weekly sessions with a counsellor. He has listened carefully as others have told the stories of their experiences on Sept. 11; each person's day, he has learned, was different.
One woman described how a person standing next to her on the sidewalk was obliterated by a huge piece of concrete that fell to earth like an asteroid. The woman has not returned to work.
Mr. Clark found that the sessions sparked his memory, allowing him to recall details he had forgotten. He describes the counselling sessions as "a forced emotional dump." His equilibrium returned fairly quickly: He cried about a dozen times in the first eight weeks, he says, then stopped.
Like many others who were directly involved, his prevailing reaction is not anger, but sadness. "Anger really isn't a part of it. More than anything, I just think about how many people are gone. I still have a hard time believing that it all really happened.
"It's such a big world. I feel like a grain of sand. My job is to discover what good I can do."
Profession: Senior executive, Euro Brokers
Family: Wife, Dianne; four children
Lives in: Mahwah, N.J.
On Sept. 11: In his office on the 84th floor of the World Trade Center, South Tower. Helped one man get to ground level while co-workers stayed put or went to roof. One of just four survivors above 80th floor; 61 fellow employees died.
Copyright © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page