On September 11th, 2001, Cantor Fitzgerald lost more employees than any other company. Among them was the brother of CEO Howard Lutnick. Lutnick then vowed to take care of the victims' families and asked his sister to help. Now, five years after the attacks NY1’s Budd Mishkin goes one on one with Edie Lutnick.
"There are moments when I think I'm going to just wake up. You know? Like somehow this is just a dream,” says Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund executive director Edie Lutnick.
Lutnick says you move forward, you don't move on.
She's the executive director of the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund, overseeing the program that allocates money to the families of the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees who died on September 11th.
Rare is the day when Lutnick does not speak to a Cantor family member, but she says the calls get more emotional as the anniversary approaches.
"The family members who just want to talk or kind of reminisce and remember things that were important to them about their loved ones," says Lutnick.
Lutnick is herself part of that group. Her brother Gary was killed in the attack. Her other brother, Howard, Cantor's CEO, was not yet at work.
At the time, Edie Lutnick was a labor lawyer. In the days after the attack, Howard asked his sister to oversee the fund that would provide victims' families with 25 percent of the company’s profits over five years and health insurance for ten years.
"My first thought was that I was in such a state of grief myself that I really wasn't the smartest choice," says Lutnick. "I think I would have very happily crawled into a ball and just kind of grieved the loss of Gary for a very long time."
She says her feelings quickly changed after phone conversations and meetings with other grief-stricken family members.
"There wasn't anything inside of me that allowed me to say that what I was feeling or my sadness was more important than the pain that I was hearing coming through the wires and walking through the door," says Lutnick.
A law firm provided office space, and volunteers, expertise and contributions started to pour in. Lutnick also coordinated a now annual memorial service.
At the first service, only a month after 9/11, Cantor Fitzgerald family members experienced the generosity of others.
"Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of teddy bears, we had hundreds and hundreds of quilts, we had CDs, books," says Lutnick.
But with time, things change.
"In the span of the five years, it has become virtually impossible to get people to donate things to put on the chairs. So we went from hundreds to virtually nothing,” says Lutnick.
And Lutnick understands that there are limits to what she can do.
"I can't bring their loved one back,” says Lutnick. “There's only so much of that hole that I can fill."
The bond between Edie Lutnick and her brothers Howard and Gary was cemented long before September 11th.
They grew up in Jericho, Long Island, the children of a history professor and an artist. But both parents died within a year and a half of each other in the late seventies. And Edie Lutnick says no other family members were there to help.
"We were really very much left on our own,” says Lutnick. “Nobody kind of swooped in and said, ÎI'll take care of you, I'll save the day.’ The three of us had to fend for ourselves."
She went off to Syracuse to earn a law degree and an MBA. Gary was in high school at the time and came to live with her.
"Gary was my brother and in a lot of respects he was my child,” says Lutnick. "In the earlier years it is fair to say that I took care of them and as time went on and they found their legs they took care of me."
Edie Lutnick says she wanted to protect her younger brother, but that ability was taken from her on September 11th and nothing could have protected or prepared Howard Lutnick from the storm that ensued. First, the loss of his brother, many of his best friends and hundreds of colleagues. Then, a sympathetic figure on national television, crying over the sadness and Shortly thereafter, the subject of media scorn when it was announced that the company was stopping the victims' paychecks.
Howard Lutnick declined our invitation to be interviewed for this story. Through the years, he has often explained that in order to help the families in the long run, he had to save the company. But the initial reaction was intense.
"You see they call me and they say, Îhow come you can't pay my salary, how come you can't pay my husband's salary. Other companies pay their salary, why can't you?’ I lost everybody in the company, so I can't pay their salary. They think we're doing something wrong. I can't pay their salaries. I don't have any money to pay their salaries," says Howard Lutnick.
"I knew that my brother was willing to go down to sack-cloth and ashes for his families,” says Edie Lutnick. "I was seeing him on the phone for hours and hours on end with the families and going to the Plaza and Pierre and talking to them. It's five years later and we've given away almost $200 million. Where is the 'I'm sorry' from any media person who doubted the integrity that was behind his words, because the proof is in the actions."
Edie Lutnick says the financial dealings with the 9/11 Cantor Fitzgerald families may diminish, but not the emotional park of her work.
"That finishes when that phone stops ringing the last time," says Edie Lutnick. "When all is said and done, Cantor families have helped me as much as I've helped them. And it may be a clichŽ but my brother always says, Îit takes a broken heart to heal a broken heart.’"
— Budd Mishkin