ABC News WASHINGTON – Up until the very last moments of her life, Sept. 11 widow Beverly Eckert poured her grief into action — pushing presidents, lawmakers and even herself to do more to make the country safer.
Eckert was on a commuter plane approaching the Buffalo airport Thursday night when it nose-dived into the ground, killing all aboard and one person on the ground.
President Barack Obama, speaking in the White House’s East Room Friday, said Eckert “was an inspiration to me and to so many others, and I pray that her family finds peace and comfort in the hard days ahead.”
Just a week before her death, Eckert met with Obama at the White House as part of a group of 9/11 families and relatives of those killed in the bombing of the USS Cole, discussing how the new administration would handle terror suspects.
Eckert was traveling to Buffalo to celebrate what would have been her late husband Sean Rooney’s 58th birthday.
Former 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer said her passing was “a profound loss for the country.”
The grim circumstances of her death were hard to accept, particularly for those who lost loved ones in the 2001 terror attacks.
“The fact that it was a plane crash, it was fire, it was reminiscent of 9/11 that way, that’s just very difficult,” said Carol Ashley, a retired schoolteacher from Long Island whose daughter died at the World Trade Center.
The women met after the 2001 attacks, and became active together on 9/11 family issues. Eckert’s husband — who was also her high school sweetheart — had been at work on the 98th floor of the south tower.
Eckert , 57, cried often when telling others about how her husband called her that morning from the burning building and said he loved her.
All of the women were grieving, but Eckert seemed unable or uninterested in holding back her tears.
She carried that grief to Congress as she advocated for better anti-terror efforts, part of a small group of widows, mothers, and children who played the roles of lobbyists.
She pushed for a 9/11 Commission. She pushed the Bush administration to provide more information to the commission. And when the commission’s work was over, she pushed Congress to adopt their recommendations.
Together, they forced lawmakers in 2004 to pass sweeping reforms of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
“I did all of this for Sean’s memory, I did it for him,” she said, crying once more. “There is a euphoria in knowing that we reached the top of the hill. ... I just wanted Sean to come home from work. Maybe now, someone else’s Sean will get to come home.”
For Eckert, the public role was not easy.
One night after a long day at Congress, she found herself stuck in the New York City, without a connecting train to her home in Stamford, Connecticut.
“We slept in the train station,” she told The Associated Press in 2004. “We had no place else to go. That’s when you look at yourself and say, ‘What am I doing? How can we possibly get this done?’.”
As Congress hemmed and hawed on the reform bill, Eckert said she’d sleep there, too, if necessary.
After the law passed, she turned her energies to Habitat for Humanity, helping build homes for low-income families.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, one of Eckert’s allies in Congress, called her “one of the most wonderful people I have ever known.”