Rebuilding as healing: Meet the man who spent 15 years of his life reconstructing the World Trade Center
NEW YORK >> "My September 11th started on September 10th," Frank Hussey said.
It has yet to end.
Hussey, who just turned 55, is one of the Tishman Construction superintendents guiding 3 World Trade Center 1,079 feet skyward. Before that, he was at 4 World Trade Center. Before that, at 1 World Trade Center. Before that, at 7 World Trade Center. Before that, he worked on emergency repairs to the Bank of New York's data center, which was damaged on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hussey has, in other words, devoted 15 years of his life to rebuilding the trade center.
But he dates his personal involvement to the night before the attack, when he was overseeing the installation of two communication masts atop an AT&T building less than a mile north of the trade center. The next morning, he was up on the rooftop to ensure the masts had been placed securely.
"The first plane came directly over us," Hussey recalled. "We heard the rumble. We were watching the belly of this plane in awe. Someone said, 'This guy's flying too low.'"
He could not have known at that moment that the hijackers in control of American Airlines Flight 11 were precisely on course, heading for the north tower. He and the ironworkers around him could only watch stupefied as the Boeing 767 hit the building. Hussey still shivers visibly as he remembers the sight of people falling from and jumping off the tower's upper reaches.
"That day resonates," he said this week.
Hussey, who lives in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, said it took a year or two before he could watch planes over Kennedy International Airport, not far away, without slowing his car reflexively.
September 2001 was a low point in his life generally, when he was a divorced father bringing up two girls, 11 and 13. "There were a lot of whys at the time," Hussey said. "It was as if you were in an abyss." His Christian faith helped him through, he said. He wears a crucifix pendant and a New York Mets ring.
Hussey is among the longest-running members in the cast of thousands responsible for the astonishing re-creation of the World Trade Center.
He was born Aug. 16, 1961, in St. Thomas Parish, in southeastern Jamaica, the first of 13 children of Patricia and Donald Hussey. When he was a boy, his father, who moved to New York to look for work and set the stage for his family's arrival, spotted a help-wanted advertisement for a chauffeur.
The position, it turned out, was to be the personal driver for John L. Tishman, then a senior vice president of Tishman Realty and Construction Co.
"Dad grew from being John Tishman's chauffeur to clerical work and helping him with personal business," Hussey said. "They became more than 'Driving Miss Daisy.' They were family."
Though he had a summer job at Tishman, the younger Hussey planned on becoming a New York City police officer after graduating from high school. That is until Tishman, who by then was in charge of the construction side of the family business, asked him one day, "How would you like to work for me?"
Hussey worked at Tishman headquarters, 666 Fifth Ave., coordinating and updating construction plans. He moved into the field as a plan coordinator, then became a punch-list superintendent, buttoning up the unfinished details on projects, and then became a superintendent.
Tishman, now a subsidiary of Aecom, has served as construction manager at 3, 4 and 7 World Trade Center for Silverstein Properties, and at 1 World Trade Center, which was begun by Silverstein but completed by the Durst Organization.
One of Hussey's favorite moments during the reconstruction was the discovery in 2008 of a 40-foot geological depression where the foundations of 4 World Trade Center were supposed to go. It had been carved out about 20,000 years earlier by a retreating glacier that deposited thousands of beach-smooth cobblestones around the hole, "like a hen laying eggs," Hussey said.
He has about a dozen of those eggs at home, including one that looks like a stitched baseball.
Hussey's experience as a coordinator prepared him for his current role, overseeing logistics at 3 World Trade Center: the delivery of building supplies to the tower, the distribution of materials to the work floors and the even deployment of hoists — a frequent choke point in high-rise construction.
On Wednesday, Hussey had to ride herd on the arrival of 300 cubic yards of concrete, nine truckloads of steel and five trailers' worth of exterior glass curtain wall, all of it in the swirl of traffic and pedestrians around Church and Cortlandt streets. Lean and sure-footed as he made his way through the work floors, Hussey greeted workers warmly. He never failed to thank the hoist operators.
"I don't have to bark," he said. "I'm a gentle lion. But I've still got the bite."
"Humility is a big part of my lesson here," Hussey said, as he looked over the complex from a perch on the 61st floor. "It's the biggest thing I would leave the trade center with."
But he hopes he does not have to leave just yet. There is still 2 World Trade Center to build.
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