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2,996: Michael C. Rothberg

By Meg


Have you ever read a story where you felt such a kinship with one of the characters, such a relatable connection, that you felt as though they were so real, so familiar, that they'd jump right off the page and into your life? That's happened to me multiple times with fictional stories, but just recently, it happened again with a story I read about someone we lost.

A few weeks ago I volunteered with the 2,996 Project, a blogging initiative started a few years ago in an effort to keep the memories of those we lost on September 11th alive. Each year on September 11th, two thousand nine hundred and ninety six bloggers come together, one for each of the lives lost that day. Each blogger is assigned a different victim from that terrible day, whom they will write about on their blog to share the stories of the lives that were cut short in that act of terror.

A friend of mine volunteered for the project last year, which inspired me to participate this year. But as I read about the life behind the name I was randomly assigned, that special kinship with characters in fictions read in years past took on a new dimension. This time, that special kinship was with someone real, someone whose mark was indelibly left on this world when they were so cruelly taken from us.

The name I was assigned was that of Michael Craig Rothberg. The more I learned about him, the more his life, his personality, made me feel that I knew him, that he'd leap right out of what I was reading; that he'd come back. He feels like someone I know, someone from my family, someone who'd fit right in at my family's dinner table as we talk, joke, and laugh.

It was that familiarity that, I think, caused me to delay writing this tribute until today. Michael's life hits just a little too close to home, reminding me of what I very nearly lost that day. My Father was scheduled to fly on the plane that hit the Pentagon. But thanks to a fluke of family planning, he decided to skip the trip that would have killed him. Now, thinking about what to write of a man who seems so similar to my brothers, my Dad, brings all of that back up.

Michael, born and raised in Sharon, Massachusetts, seems to have had a gift for finding amusement and joy in the most unlikely of places. I found a story about him in the New York Times, where they related a pet peeve of Michael's about his letterhead at Cantor Fitzgerald, where he worked as the Director of Program Trading. He jokingly complained that his phone number was listed with a 1 prior to the area code. He reasoned, no adult sophisticated enough to call a bond-trading firm needed to be told to dial a 1 before the area code.

His quick wit, charm, and sense of humor were matched by his athleticism, compassion, and keen analytical mind. That analytical mind propelled him to McGill University in Montreal, where he earned both undergraduate and masters degrees in math and computer science. He soon won great respect on Wall Street with his first employer, Bear Stearns, for his exceptionally adept understanding of complex financial transactions, as well as his innovative approach to finding solutions to whatever stood in his way. He not only understood the technical side of his profession, the computer systems used for program training, but he also intimately understood the communication skills - the compassion - needed to relate to his clients.

Soon enough, his analytical creativity and human approach to trading propelled him to Kidder Peabody & Company, where he became a team leader. He became such an adept leader, that when he later became the Managing Director of Program Trading at Cantor Fitzgerald, his employees came with him. They weren't just employees to him, though; he called them his colleagues.

Everything I've read about Michael tells me, though, that he was so much more than his job. His compassion propelled him to not only donate money, but to donate his time, efforts, and every resource at his disposal, to causes he deeply believed in. He wasn't just a philanthropist; he invested his heart and soul in everything he believed in. He gave generously in every way he could to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute's Jimmy Fund, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, and Mutual Funds Against Cancer. As Jamie Bolton, a good friend of his once said, "He was looking out for people."

He loved his family. He was a loving son, brother, grandson, cousin, and nephew. Whenever he heard a complaint, he tried to do something about it, something to help. It was Michael who gave his sister, Rhonda the encouragement and support to start her own business.

Michael reached the top through working hard and maintaining his compassion for everyone around him. He loved deeply, he gave generously, and he maintained his integrity.

On September 11, 2001, Michael Rothberg was in his office on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center. His life was cut short by an act of cowardice and terror. The lives of his family and friends were forever altered. The world lost a truly remarkable human being, one whose life was a testament to kindness, generosity, and hard work.

Michael's family has set up a scholarship in his name for the students of his high school alma mater in Sharon, Massachusetts. Each May since his death in 2001, the scholarship has been awarded to students at Sharon High School who most exemplify Michael's qualities of academic promise, ethical conduct, and service to community. I'd like to encourage all of you to make a donation to the scholarship, in Michael's memory. You can learn more about the scholarship at their website.

Just like those beloved characters in the novels I read as a child, I feel that he's someone I know. But there's so much more to it than that; I feel the reality of who he was, how he lived, and how he looked at life. He feels not only real, but familiar; he feels like a brother to me.

Because of the events of that horrific day eight years ago, there's an incongruous feeling, a feeling I've had that never had the chance to be confirmed by reality. That opportunity was taken, the opportunity to meet Michael, befriend him, know him. But I can remember him. We can all remember him, so we can keep his spirit alive as a friend, as a brother; a man whose story will never be forgotten by those who love him.

I want to offer my sincerest gratitude to Michael’s parents, Iris & Jay Rothberg, and his sister Rhonda, for their support, encouragement, and assistance with preparing and editing this tribute. Your kindness and support has meant the world to me, and it has inspired me throughout the process of preparing this tribute. I’m not sure I could have done it without your help, your blessing, and your love. My thoughts, prayers, and love are with you today, and will be always.

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