Bill Doyle, Tireless Advocate for 9/11 Families, Remembered

Bill Doyle, Tireless Advocate for 9/11 Families, Remembered

America’s 9/11 Memorial Quilts Project is just one effort aided by Bill Doyle. Photo by Jin Lee

The news of the passing of Bill Doyle at his Florida home last Thursday was met with a deep sadness at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

As many who knew and admired him have stated, Bill was a longtime and tenacious advocate on behalf of his fellow 9/11 relatives, beginning with the stream of information he delivered to the bereaved through the formidable group listserve he created. The email list distributed news, updated facts, offered support group and relief agency contacts and did just about anything else that would support or serve the grieving families of 9/11.

Bill inspired us through his dedication to service, his fearlessness, and his inherent fairness.

He will always be remembered for the fierce love he carried for his son, Joseph Doyle, who was killed in the North Tower.  He will always be remembered for his dedication to family, friends, fellow Staten Islanders and the 9/11 community at large. 

In the early years of planning the 9/11Memorial Museum, Bill provided invaluable guidance whenever it was sought, and sometimes, when it wasn’t. That plainspoken counsel, however, was always important to hear, especially, when it came from Bill.

After he and his wife Camille, who preceded him in death, retired to Florida, Bill continue to be a valued, on-call adviser. Hearteningly, golfing reports sometimes accompanied his dispatches to us. Several members of our curatorial team were recipients of Bill and Camille’s hospitality in the Sunshine State, and returned to lower Manhattan with accounts of his widened smile, year-round tan, and passionate dedication to the legal undertaking of 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism, a cause he helped to spearhead.

Terrorism was never an abstraction to Bill. The 2001 attacks were a savage assault on innocent, irreplaceable lives, each mourned and remembered for his or her individuality and unfinished dreams. Intuitively and strategically, Bill dedicated himself to preserving the distinct personhood of 9/11’s victims through varied initiatives. He also lent the matchless communication engine of his "WDoyle5615 listserve" to projects striving to remember and honor those nearly 3,000 extraordinary everyday people.  

One such project was America’s 9/11Victims Quilt, a sweeping 60-foot-wide tribute to those killed, accented with narrative symbols and arranged according to where their lives ended or their responder affiliations. The impact of this three-panel quilt derives from its testament to the breadth and diversity of humanity reflected in 9/11’s death toll.

But the power of such a comprehensive latticework of pictures and names would have not been the same without Bill. Neither family members nor photo researchers, the founders of this quilt venture faced a daunting task in soliciting portrait contributors from those who knew, loved or had employed these individuals. Forward momentum might have stalled for years had they braved outreach to 9/11 families on their own. Fortunately, however, Jeannie Ammerman, a principal organizer of the project, would soon enter the gravitational force of Bill Doyle.

The two became collaborators with Bill offering his credibility along with his network of families and companies to encourage contributions of pictures to the quilt. The 500 volunteer quilt-makers decided to substitute an icon of a flickering candle for individuals without corresponding images, but these were the exceptions. Thanks to Bill’s offstage advocacy, the quest to match victims’ names and faces was a remarkable success.

A few days shy of the fifth anniversary of the attacks, after touring several states where citizen quilters had assisted with its fabrication, America’s 9/11Memorial Quilt was officially dedicated to the victims’ families as an expression of the nation’s compassion at a ceremony at the New York Marriott Downtown hosted by The Voices of September 11th.

It was more than fitting that Bill be invited to accept the quilt on behalf of the families he served, and to charter the practice of locating an especially endearing face – in Bill’s case, that of his handsome 25-year-old son in a constellation of Cantor Fitzgerald portraits – and sharing a fond memory it stirred.  

Bill’s personal custody of the quilt was momentary, however, as he had also labored behind the scenes to secure its donation to the newly designated "World Trade Center Memorial Museum." To this day, the object’s credit line preserves Bill’s generous work on behalf of this milestone gift to the collection, just as the quilt’s unique accession number -  "2006.2.1" - identifies it as the second donation to the nascent collection received by the 9/11 Memorial Museum.  

When the Museum opened in May 2014, America’s 9/11 Memorial Victims Quilt inaugurated the display of tribute art featured in the South Tower corridor, with over 2.5 million visitors exposed to those unique faces and their appropriate geographic and agency connections to the events.

We will always remember Bill Doyle as a good man with a great heart. He spoke his mind and acted with exceptional generosity on behalf of thousands. He relentlessly toiled for a better world, for the comfort of others and in the service of knowledge and memory.

By Jan Seidler Ramirez, Chief Curator