The feelings from the 9/11 terrorist attacks resurfaced and were mixed with new emotions for Rodney Mims Cook Jr. two and a half years after it happened when he got a call inviting him to a friend’s wedding.
Cook had spent more than two years mourning his friend — John Morris — who was believed to have died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. A John Morris was listed among the dead from the attacks, but it turned out to be another person who had the same name and worked with Cook’s friend at Merrill Lynch.
When Cook heard from his friend again after all of that time, it took him aback.
“It was like a ghost,” Cook said. “(There was) a lot of crying, a lot of emotion, joy. It was a very unusual experience. I don’t know how I could possibly explain it well enough. Words don’t really convey it.”
Cook shared his personal connections to the terrorist attacks during Duluth’s 9/11 remembrance ceremony at Eddie Owen Presents at the Red Clay Music Foundry on Wednesday night.
In addition to Morris — who was near the World Trade Center but was not inside when the planes hit it — Cook’s father-in-law, Jim Robinson, was in the neighboring American Express building when the south tower fell on it. Robinson survived the collapse.
“It’s one of the most personal circumstances in American history because everyone in this room has a personal connection to that day – every one of you,” Cook told attendees at the cermony. “One of the things that I find interesting is that the people who attacked us thought that it would tear us apart, and one of the things that it did was it brought us together unlike we had ever been joined in about 250 years.”
Additionally, Cook knew Fr. Mychal Judge, a New York Fire Department chaplain who died at the World Trade Center as firefighters responded to the attacks. Cook is an honorary member of Atlanta Fire Station 11 and through that connection had been to fire stations in New York City and met Judge.
Because of those personal connections to 9/11, each anniversary is difficult for Cook. At times while he spoke Wednesday night, he choked up as he recalled the attacks.
“It’s always as raw every year as what you just heard me convey as best as I could,” Cook said after the ceremony.
Cook, who lives in Atlanta, is friends with Duluth artist Kathy Fincher, who is known for her 9/11-themed Dream Keepers painting the and 3-D sculpture interpretation of it on the Duluth Town Green. Cook and Fincher were the main speakers at Duluth’s 9/11 ceremony.
Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris said it is important to remember the anniversary each year because of the impact 9/11 had on the U.S. Each year, the city has Fincher and a rotating guest speaker talk about 9/11 and its impact.
“It just changed everyone’s lives,” Harris said. “It changed the way that people think, and travel and ... everybody seems to have a personal connection.”
The attacks had a profound attack on Cook. In addition to thinking one of his friends had died in the World Trade Center for two and a half years, there were 24 hours after the attack where he and his wife couldn’t reach his father-in-law because the phone system in New York City was so congested with calls.
“It was such a horrible day and we couldn’t (get a hold of him). We tried and if you had friends or family there, you oculd not call anybody there,” Cook told attendees at the ceremony.
Cook, Morris and David Low had been close friends and fraternity brothers at Washington and Lee University. During the ceremony, Cook also paid tribute to Low, who was an astronaut who later died from cancer.
Meanwhile, Cook said Morris was deeply affected by the attacks.
“His life was so turned upside down by it that we all saw that name published and that company and thought he had died and he sort of checked out and didn’t communicate with anybody,” Cook said. “His brother was sailing (when Morris resurfaced) and we couldn’t find him. His parents had died and we thought he was gone.”
Cook said his friend is now “fine” before adding “as fine as anybody who experienced that. It never goes away.”
And as a result of the attacks, Cook changed as well in that he found a new focus in his work as an architect.
He had done some projects designed to promote peace in the world before the terrorist attacks, but he also did other types of architectural projects.
After the attacks, he said he began to focus solely on architectural projects that promoted peace. That was a direct result of his connections to 9/11, he said.
A project he’s currently working on with Fincher is a park honoring Georgia’s Nobel Peace laureates in Atlanta.
“It was the greatest terrorist attack on the homeland of the mightiest nation on the planet in the history of humankind and one of such magnitude that will make you pause,” Cook said.
“It compels you to figure out how to stop things like that from happening.”