In Memory of Michael James Ahern, Tribute in Light Producer

The individual beams compromising the Tribute in Light soar into the sky of lower Manhattan on a cloudless night.
The Tribute in Light. Photo by Jin Lee.

Michael James Ahern, 1947-2015

On Sunday, January 24, as New York City awoke from beneath its snow blanket, I joined several hundred others at the memorial service for Michael James Ahern, who died in November 2015. I worked with Ahern when he annually produced Tribute in Light, the last few years in partnership with the 9/11 Memorial.

My colleagues and I knew Ahern as an incredible force of calmness, professionalism, confidence, and kindness during those early September days when we at the Memorial prepared for the annual 9/11 commemoration. If at any time we expressed a sense of anxiety, he listened, took a deep breath, and effectively said, "Don’t think twice, it's all right."

At the celebration of Ahern's life, I was not surprised to hear that this kindness, humor, fairness, and intelligence permeated his work and family. And he had an extraordinary career, largely producing rock concerts: He was on the production crew for the Rolling Stones concert at Slade Castle in Ireland and did the voice-over introduction for the Allman Brothers at Fillmore East. His friends and colleagues dropped the names Bowie, Prince, and Dylan, along with Live Aid and Amnesty International concerts. They didn't tell the story of how, in the days after 9/11, Ahern came to be setting up lights at ground zero, but it makes sense that he would have gotten himself downtown to hook up generators and restore power.

The best people in our lives challenge us to see ourselves in a better light. Ahern is one of those people.

To his wife Mady and his daughters Hannah and Eliza, we send our deepest condolences. We add our overwhelming gratitude for the gift he gave us all, allowing millions to remember magnificent people with a tribute that rises to the heavens and leaves an afterglow of heartbreaking beauty. With all that Ahern made possible, we are honored that his family chose a photograph of the Tribute in Light as the signature image for the celebration of his life.

"I do know that, in a heartbeat, you can change people’s mood if you change the light." – Michael Ahern

By Amy S. Weisser, Vice President for Exhibitions

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