Written in collaboration with Project 2,996, a tribute to the victims of 9/11.
Five years ago today, Joseph Ryan Allen, born February 6, 1962, went to work as usual at the Cantor Fitzgerald offices in the World Trade Center, where he worked as a bond broker.
A picture of him at the time shows a handsome man with a winning smile and movie-star good looks. And, in fact, Joe (as he was known to his friends) lived in Los Angeles for seven years trying to make it as an actor, finally moving back to New York where he would eventually come to work for Cantor Fitzgerald. On September 11, 2005, the friends he had made in Los Angeles would hold a memorial service in his honor.
He came from a large, close-knit family. He had three older brothers, Mike, John, and Kevin, and a younger sister, Jennifer, who relied on Joe for emotional support during their mother’s terminal struggle with cancer. Their mother, who succumbed in 2000, would never know the pain of outliving her son; nor would their father, who predeceased him.
Friends described him as a sociable fellow, a bon vivant who enjoyed wine, women, and good company, but who was always available to talk about matters of a more intimate nature when you needed him. Friends called him “lively, tempestuous, sensitive, randy, fearless, able to sniff out BS in a heartbeat and unable to abide same… a traveler, a lover of exotic women, cared deeply for his family, loved to get a few drinks in him... in short - a vibrant soul.” He would always be there with “the perfect advice, no matter the time of day.”
As a youth, he was a sportsman and an athlete, with infectious good humor and optimism. Friends remember spending countless hours with Joe laughing, playing touch football, whiffle ball, basketball, and, memorably, Strat-O-Matic baseball at the Allen house in Yonkers. His brother and sister would later establish the Joseph Ryan Allen Memorial Award for baseball in his name at Columbia University.
A friend who went to Fordham Prep school in Bronxville with Joe, and later to Fordham University, remembers him as a popular guy, a huge Earth, Wind & Fire fan who would spontaneously burst out singing the tunes of his favorite band. A former roommate from his days in Los Angeles remembers, years later, Joe dancing in the hallway to Earth, Wind & Fire – a moment that cemented their friendship.
A former female neighbor paints a picture of a man with infallible courtesy, someone who would hold the door open for you or get your luggage, but never in an uncomfortable, overly familiar way. He was unfailingly polite, even when inconvenienced. “Joe would come across the hall in his plaid bathrobe and slippers and ask us to turn down the stereo. ‘It's the bass. If you could just turn down the bass.’ He was never angry about it, which always made me feel terrible for keeping him awake.”
Joe loved to travel; he toured France in 1999, visiting WWII landing sites and museums in Normandy, and returned with his girlfriend to Paris where, typically, he got to know her family over cigars and wine at dinner.
Joe was a joker, a guy who loved people. The wife of a Cantor Fitzgerald colleague who perished with Joe on September 11 recounts how, two years earlier, Joe and her husband John embarked together on “the famous weight loss contest”. Joe would call her at home and quiz her on what John ate for dinner and the length of his workouts, and they would laugh about it together.
Joe had that unique ability to make friends easily and retain them for life. Friends describe someone you could pick up the threads with after years of losing touch, someone who made you feel every time you saw him that “it was as if we hung out all the time”, as “one of those friends that I know that we would have picked up on our last conversation just where we left off”, someone you never forgot.
A New York Times profile of him after his death quoted his best friend Robert from fourth grade as saying, “He would be depressed because other people around him had problems; they weren't his problems… He was one of those friends you speak to four or five times a day. He left a tremendous void in a lot of people's lives.” Joe was at the same time compassionate and charismatic, easygoing, affable, outspoken, and loyal to friends and family. Even distant acquaintances who didn’t know him well noted his regard for family.
Two weeks before 9/11, Joe attended a friend’s bachelor party in Myrtle Beach. Surrounded by friends, they spent five days playing golf, smoking cigars, and hanging out in the Jacuzzi drinking and telling jokes. He told a friend, “Life doesn’t get any better than this.”
On that sunny morning five years ago, his family received a call from Joe, trapped in the towers, reassuring them that he was OK and was trying to escape. It would be the last time they ever heard from him.
Joe was a family-oriented man who, at the time of his death at the age of 39, hadn’t yet started a family of his own, and was looking to settle down. But his legacy lives on. A nephew, Joseph Allen, born on April 25, 2002, was named after an uncle he’d never meet. His sister Jennifer also named her son after Joe. She describes Ryan Joseph as being much like his uncle, flirtatious and endearingly mischievous.
I never met you, Joseph Ryan Allen, but I will remember you always. May you rest in peace.