WEST HARTFORD — Joseph Lenihan’s job kept him traveling and away from his family more often than he liked.
The week of Sept. 11, 2001, he decided he wouldn’t travel for work, and instead wanted to stay home so he could attend his children’s parent teacher conferences and recitals.
Lenihan, a West Hartford native who attended school at St. Thomas the Apostle and Hall High School before moving on to the University of Connecticut, was executive vice president for Keefe, Bruyette and Woods and worked on the 89th floor of the south tower. That’s where he was on Sept. 11, 2001.
As successful as he was in his professional life, Lenihan’s family and friends remember the Cos Cob resident more for who he was as a person.
“When Joe passed away, we talked about his business success, but really what people remembered was the person he was,” said his older brother John Lenihan. “He had a terrific personality. He was quick witted and had a great sense of humor. Anytime you spent with him you felt better. He really was remembered after he passed as a great friend, a great brother, a great son and a wonderful father to his three children.”
On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, his family and friends are remembering him with what will likely be the final major fundraiser they host for the Joseph A. Lenihan Memorial Fund, though they’ll still continue hosting smaller fundraisers and receiving donations. The fund was established in 2002 to provide scholarships at his three alma maters. In the 19 years, the fund has raised more than $220,000 dollars and has given out 75 scholarships.
“It feels terrific,” Lenihan said about the fund. “Education was important to Joe. To be able to remember him by providing a scholarship in his name to recipients is really heartwarming for us.”
This year, being the 20th anniversary, had Lenihan and the rest of the fund’s committee wanting to plan a special remembrance.
“It’s difficult,” Lenihan said. “I think this year takes on a little more magnitude, because it’s the 20th year.”
Lenihan still vividly remembers hearing about the attack on Sept. 11, 2001 while at work. At first, like many, he wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the first plane hitting the north tower.
“Sept. 11 happened to be a beautiful day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky,” Lenihan said. “At the time we thought it was a small plane. We did not realize it was a commercial airliner.”
So thinking little of it, he jumped in a car with his coworkers to visit a client. On the radio, though, he heard the south tower had then been hit.
“That was very odd,” he recalls thinking at the time. “I tried to call him immediately and could not get through to him. As the day went on, there was no contact with him. When the tower went down, it was not a good thing. At the time we were hoping he had gotten out. Communications were down, so maybe he couldn’t get to a phone and he was making his way back to Cos Cob.”
Their hope, though, started to dwindle as time went on without hearing from Joe.
“Our last hope was that there were some people who got out, but were...just walking around,” Lenihan said. “By the next morning, there was no hope.”
After Joe’s death, the Lenihan family relied on their size in numbers. Joe was the youngest of six children in the family.
“We were all devastated and it was a very somber time,” Lenihan said. “That being said, we persevered and kept each other supported and did our best to put one foot in front of the other.”
Raised Catholic, Lenihan said he also has always relied on his faith to get him through the loss of his brother.
“I have a feeling that I’m going to see him again someday,” he said.