Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering Francine Virgilio

This post was originally published on "So a Blonde Walks Into a Blog" (no longer active) on 9/11/06 as part of a blog project to honor each victim of the September 11 terror attacks.

Our family is reading about the life of Saint Frances Cabrini, an Italian-American saint (the first Italian-American to become a saint). Her real name was Francesca.

So while I was searching for information on Francine A. Virgilio, who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, I found a message board in which she is referred to as "Francesca."

I don't think that's coincidence.

In reading about this amazing woman's life - her kindness, acts of charity and love of others, I think you could say she was a saint on earth.

Born June 7 in Brooklyn, NY, Francine was 48-years-old when she died in the World Trade Center. She worked there as Vice President of insurance claims for Aon Corp. Francine lived for a short time in Sicily, but always considered New York her home, so much so that she was a devoted New York Yankees fan.

Though she wasn't married and had no children, she served as a "surrogate mother" to her four nephews, who considered her "cool" enough to hang out with without being embarrassed in front of their friends.

As a NY Times article noted:

One Christmas, Francine Virgilio treated her nephews to a show with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and dinner afterward at Mickey Mantle's. She even hired a limousine to take them around.

Cool aunt, indeed!

From an article:

"If there was a second mother to us, she would be it," said her nephew, Kevin. "She would always come up from the city to visit us. We are like the sons she never had."

Her other nephews are Salvatore, Joseph and Paul Virgilio.

The NY Times article goes on to describe a little about her life:

An Aon executive, Ms. Virgilio started out as a secretary after high school and worked her way up. She was just as disciplined about her favorite team, the Yankees. She followed them through the bad years, and kept an autographed photo of Lou Piniella on her desk. Last year, she snagged a ticket to the Subway Series and had it framed for a place in her home on Staten Island.

Generous does not seem an appropriate word to describe how incredibly giving Francine was. Her sister-in-law Susan was quoted as saying, "A lot of times it was more fun to watch her give the gift than to watch the person she gave it to open it."

From the article, writer David Andreatta summed up Francine's generosity perfectly:

She spent nearly 20 years caring for her ailing parents in their Queens home before settling on Staten Island in 1993. A humanitarian who rarely asked for favors, Ms. Virgilio donated her time and resources to several charitable organizations, including the Alzheimer's Foundation and Save the Children, through which she adopted a little girl.

Even on the day she went missing, Ms. Virgilio had planned to meet her sister-in-law, Susan Virgilio, for lunch in Manhattan, and to give her a 35mm camera so her nephew could take a photography course at his high school.

Unfortunately, that lunch would never happen.

According to the SLive article, at 9:05 a.m., just two minutes after the first plane crashed into the first tower, Francine called Susan from the 98th floor of the building where she worked.

In her seemingly understated way, she phoned Susan and told her she wouldn't be able to make it for lunch, but she would call her later that evening. I was struck by her words. It appears as if she is once again thinking of others instead of herself, not wanting to worry her family.

On September 16, 2001, firefighter John Caputo found Francine's checkbook among the rubble. In the book were photographs of her loved ones as well as a blood donor card, just another symbol of her generous spirit.

In addition to her sister-in-law and nephews, Francine is survived by her mother Josephine Sorrentino Virgilio, and her brother, Nunzio.

If you have the time, please visit this message board to see how loved Francine was by so many.

Also, the SLive article has more detailed information on Francine's life and is very well-written.

God bless you, Francine. God bless you, your family, friends and loved ones. I will never forget you and feel so priviledged to have learned about your wonderful life.

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