We all know where we were on 9.11 and how fearful it made us.  We ran to our children, then glued ourselves for days to the television in hopes that a single life might emerge saved from the rubble in NYC.  In Washington DC, rumors of car bombs and attacks ran rampant and  the scar on the Pentagon left even the most stalwart of us in tears.

Shortly after the physical devastation of the attacks came the more insidious effects on our Country.  The wars, the costs associated with them, the young lives given for Freedom; the long term effects on our economy and on the banks, and the long national debate over our internal priorities and our role in the world have taken their toll on every aspect of our lives.  And it has made life for almost everyone tougher than we have known in it generations…but…

In the eight years since then, I believe we have showed the resilience of our country.  In that eight years, we have rid the world of Saddam Hussein  and ended genocide in that country.  We have seen free elections in a one time dictatorship.  And have worked with the people of Afghanistan to take back their country.  We have either killed Bin Laden or forced him into a hole from which he cannot successfully attack us again. We have jailed our attackers and kept them from further harming innocent people and beyond that, we have questioned ourselves about the means we used to do that.  Our intelligence forces and our troops have kept terrorism off our shores.  We have elected our first non-white President with record numbers of voter turn out and seen our second female Vice Presidential candidate.  We have watched our banks and businesses tumble and we have seen good men and women lose their employment. But we have also exposed robbers and theives in the most unlikely places and routed them.  And we will never allow ourselves that kind of complacency again.  We are going to tackle health care and we will come out of it with a more fair and just system for our citizens. And in record numbers, WE are becoming involved. Whether its reading the newspaper or going to a townhall meeting or attending a march. We are not asleep anymore.  And it is the strength and resilience of the American people that are the greatest threat to our enemies, not a single leader or Party.

 This is the story of just one life lost that day.

Neil David Levin

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Neil 

October 11, 2001

Dear Neil,
I’m sure you know that I have been attending funerals of firemen, on behalf of the Governor. At each of these funerals I begin by telling everyone that I never spoke at a funeral before the tragedy… I never eulogized anyone. I could not speak at my father’s funeral or my brother’s.

But indeed – we are all doing things today that we never dreamed we’d be capable of.

Neil, I want to properly eulogize you. I certainly have the words. I am sorry I cannot speak them myself. 

In the eyes of many people Neil Levin was an important person. He served on the Senate Banking Committee as a staffer for Senator D’Amato. He chaired the Federal Home Loan Bank. He was a vice president at Goldman Sachs. He was a key member of Governor Pataki’s team, one of his closest advisors, serving as New York’s Superintendent of Banks, Superintendent of Insurance and ultimately head of the Port Authority.

Neil Levin was more than just an important person. He was a person of grace, wit and kindness. He was the rarest of humans – one who somehow found the time to make many of us, no matter how great, no matter how small, know that we are the most important, significant special person on earth.

How did he do it? There are millions of answers to that question – but the simplest is this. He was present. He paid attention. He made the time.

He made the time to be a very learned person. He was up on every issue imaginable – had an informed opinion about almost any subject. He read extensively – he followed the news more carefully than probably anyone.

He made the time to make the right decisions. He cared about issues – passionately. His moral compass was rocksolid – his integrity legendary. He was the guy to ask when you weren’t sure what path to take. You knew his advice would lead you in the right direction.

He made the time to leave his mark on history – his work on behalf of Holocaust survivors and heirs has forever changed the course of history. He lead the fight to open up Swiss Banks records on dormant accounts, pushing aside the veil of bank secrecy laws that had kept the information about the accounts from their rightful owners and heirs. He continued that fight to European insurance companies. He dreamed of a Holocaust Claims Processing Office – where survivors and heirs would find an advocate on their behalf – and he made the time to make it so.

He made the time to fill his life with love. He married the woman he loved – his perfect match in so many ways. He had an instant family with two beautiful stepdaughters. He made the time to hold his friends close – and his family closer – not only his immediate family – but his mom, and his brother’s family, too.

He made the time for children. Every one of my children enjoyed a special relationship with him – my two older ones sought his advice when deciding to attend a Quaker high school – my younger ones played with the “toys” in his office and called him Superintendent Levin-Twelve. But perhaps the best way to tell you about him is to tell you about the last time I saw him. My 5 year old, Timmy visited me at work that day, for his special day with Mommy at her office. By mere happenstance Neil called, learned Timmy was with me and immediately asked us to come over to the World Trade Center. As the head of the Port Authority for six months already he had only just discovered that he had a VIP pass that would allow him to go to the observation deck without waiting on the long lines. And so we went to the top – Neil put quarters in the telescopes – showed Timmy what he could see. We took silly pictures. It was a magical time – one of the last weeks in August when all the world seems to be on vacation – and two busy NY people had time for a long lunch – playing hooky a little, if you will. He took us to Windows on the World – raving about the food – making me let Timmy have chocolate cake for lunch. And at the end, after he lifted Timmy high in the air and kissed him, he thanked me for letting him in our “special day”.

It is much too soon to really believe that Neil Levin is gone. We promise you, Neil, that we will keep your legacy alive – we will make time to do the important things.

God Bless America and resolve of the American People to see evil and rout it, to see good and nurture it and to hope the same for all human life.

 

 

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