Raymond Arke | Staff Writer
15 years ago, two Duquesne alumni lost their lives in the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center. Duquesne students might not have noticed the plaque sitting beneath a tree between the Student Union and the law school, which honors Francis Skidmore Jr. and Donald Havlish Jr.
Francis “Frank” Skidmore Jr., of Mendham, New Jersey, was a 1968 Duquesne graduate with a degree in Economics and was also a member of the Kappa Sigma Phi fraternity. While he started at Duquesne as a transfer student, he developed an affection for the university.
His widow, Katie Skidmore, said he was “very proud” to be a Duquesne alumnus. She said a lot of his values came as part of his experience as a student at the university.
Frank Skidmore Jr. would eventually go on to work for Euro Brokers, an investment firm located in the World Trade Center.
Katie Skidmore described a man who was devoted to his family. Despite a busy schedule, he always made time to be at home.
“His family was his greatest treasure … our daughter thought he was Superman,” she said.
One of his greatest traits was his love of giving and involvement with the community, according to Katie Skidmore. She said Frank had many philanthropic involvements, including working for Wall Street Charities and being a member of the Knights of Columbus. According to Katie Skidmore, someone else put it best when they described Frank as someone who “didn’t know how not to give.”
One of his biggest charity efforts was participating in a drive for the poor Appalachia region. The drive, which he used to collect housewares and clothes for the needy, happened twice a year.
Frank Skidmore would even go visit the region himself, Katie Skidmore said.
“During Easter breaks, he chaperoned a trip with the [local] kids and took them down to Appalachia to help the people there,” Katie Skidmore said.
A busy man, with a long commute and a Wall Street job, Frank Skidmore still managed to attend daily mass. Katie Skidmore said the Catholic faith meant a lot to him and described him as “a man of great devotion.”
According to his obituary, he brought the Eucharist to a bedridden parishioner, visiting so much as to make her an honorary family member.
On the day of the attacks, Frank Skidmore was at work in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He contacted his wife after the first plane hit the North Tower.
“He called me and said ‘I want to let you know that I’m okay and that we think the North Tower has been hit,’” Katie Skidmore said. “I asked if he was going to evacuate and he said no … he said not to worry and ‘I love you.’”
After 15 years, Katie Skidmore thinks the experience had made her and her three children tougher.
“We do everything thinking, ‘What would Dad do?’” she said. “His influence has made us all stronger.”
The second Duquesne alumnus and victim was Donald Havlish Jr. He came to the Pittsburgh area when he was seven. Fiona Havlish, his widow, said although he wasn’t born in the city, whenever he referred to “home” he meant Pittsburgh.
Donald Havlish Jr. earned a law degree from Duquesne in 1977. Previously, he attended Washington and Jefferson for his bachelor’s degree.
Though he earned a law degree, Havlish never took the bar exam or practiced law. Instead, he joined the insurance industry, working his way to the title Senior Vice President for Aon, a global insurance firm. He worked on the 101st floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Living in Pennsylvania but working in downtown Manhattan gave Donald Havlish a 90 minute commute. That didn’t stop him from getting home to his family, Fiona Havlish said.
“Once we had a daughter, she became his main focus,” she said. “Before he would get home around nine, but after we had her, he would come home earlier around six.”
Fiona Havlish said her husband was someone who left an impact with people.
“He was a man of integrity [and] everyone who knew him loved him,” she said.
He also had a deep love of the outdoors. The Havlish home was along the Delaware Canal and Donald Havlish loved to watch the ducks and wildlife along the water.
“Working in the city was so hectic … he just loved living on the water,” Fiona Havlish said.
After the attacks that killed her husband, Fiona Havlish’s called her family’s lawyer. When he said that they could try suing the countries that sponsored the attacks, she thought it was a joke.
“I laughed,” she said. “Me against the entire Middle East? I don’t sue,” Fiona Skidmore recalled.
The Havlish family ended up involved in a famous lawsuit, consisting of 47 families, against Osama Bin Laden, The Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei and Hezbollah, as well as other terrorist organizations implicated in the 9/11 attacks.
The case ended in 2012 when a federal judge awarded the families a settlement in excess of $7 billion. However, Fiona Havlish said it is not nearly finished, considering none of the families have received the money.
“We are in the litigation [collection] phase right now … it’s a long process.” she said.
Looking back over the past 15 years, Fiona Havlish said she’s found things for which to be grateful. She has turned her family’s tragedy into an opportunity to help others as an author and inspirational speaker who focuses on coaching women who have also suffered losses.
“If it weren’t for that day, I wouldn’t be here today doing what I’m doing,” she said. “You can take trauma and use it to be a service and to help people. Live life to the max.”