Susie’s Sept. 11 Story
The call home never came
By Delle Willett
Susanne Ward-Baker — Susie — was always filled with angst when her son, Tim Ray Ward, flew in airplanes.
They had an agreement: He would call her when he left and again when he got home. Tim left a message on Susie’s answering machine: “Hi Mom, I’m on my way to Boston. I love you.” The other message: “Hi Mom, I’m home,” never came.
But there were three other phone calls that day. The first came from Susie’s mother, telling her to turn on the television. With a “terrible feeling,” Susie made the second call to Tim’s employer at Rubio’s corporate headquarters, who confirmed that Tim was on United Flight 175 that plowed into the World Trade Center’s second tower. And the third call was from United Airlines.
After seven frustrating years, Susie was able to bring her son home. Through the help of Dan Matticks, previously with San Diego’s Medical Examiner’s office, and Dan Williams of Greenwood Mortuary, three bone shards arrived in an engraved cherrywood box. When Susie was handed the box she held it in her arms, close to her heart. Her plans are to have the bones cremated with her when she dies.
Susie lost two other sons who were born prematurely. “Tim was my special angel from God. My rock of Gibraltar. I was meant to have him. He was my best friend. I’ll get through this; he’d want me to.”
Born on Valentine’s Day, 1963, tall and blonde, Tim played varsity basketball in high school and was class president in his junior year. Learning to cook with his mom when he was in middle school, he became a gourmet cook who loved eating good food and drinking fine wine. A 1981 San Diego State graduate with a degree in computer science, Tim worked for Rubio’s while in school as well as after he graduated; and when he died had been at the company longer than any other employee. Active in the community, Tim was a member of the San Diego Zoological Society and The Old Globe Theater, where his memorial service was held.
“Tim was a very, very special person,” said Susie. “A really good guy. He was mellow, kind and sweet. A leader. He got along with everybody. Everyone at Rubio’s complimented me about my son.”
Susie moved from her home in Visalia to San Diego about 25 years ago, first living in La Mesa, then, after Tim’s death, moving to Rancho Bernardo, and recently to Escondido where she is enjoying the family atmosphere of her mobile-home community. In her living room is a display cabinet, purchased just for Tim’s memorabilia, which includes, among many photos and objects, the engraved box, an engraved piece of steel from Ground Zero, and a photo of Tim standing in front of the twin towers taken in May.
Susie’s work experience includes running presses in a print shop, assisting a veterinarian and managing the women’s spa at the Hotel del Coronado. But what she really likes to talk about is her volunteer work. For over 25 years she volunteered with the Department of Social Services, working with medically fragile children. Her favorite work was at Polinski Children’s Center where she assisted doctors with medical exams. And she did fundraising for both the Polinski Center and the Child Abuse Prevention Foundation. She was nominated for the President’s Award for social service and was once recognized as “Health and Human Services Volunteer of the Year.” Over the years Susie, 70, has developed chronic pain issues that have forced her to resign from her volunteer work, which was also time spent keeping her mind off her son.
A Christian, Susie is delighted with the Jewish family who “adopted her”: Burt and Fran Israel and their son, Kenny, daughter-in-law Kimberly, and their two young children. Kenny is her companion to all of the 9/11 events. The next one is Sept. 9 at San Diego’s Department of Justice, for a rose garden dedication. She has also attended all of the Escondido Fire Department commemorations at Grape Day Park, where she reads the names of passengers on Flight 175, including her son’s.
When reruns of that fateful day are shown on TV, she watches them. Doesn’t turn them off. And when asked how she feels about this being the 10th anniversary of 9/11, she replied, “All anniversaries are the same to me.”
Susie says she lives from day-to-day. “My life was shattered. People tell me that I’ll reach a point some day when I’ll feel better. I haven’t reached it yet.”
Years of emotional and physical pain have taken a few inches and many pounds off Susie, but her eyes light up and her spunk resurfaces when she talks about “Samantha,” her calico “rag doll” cat, her days of playing tennis, her volunteer work, her friendly neighbors — and most of all, her son.