ROBERT J. FERRIS: Papa Bob at the
many men his age ponderedretiring to Florida or hitting
the links in Arizona, Robert J. Ferris considered buying
a house near an orphanage in Haiti.
His wife of 38 years, Susanne, demurred. "I don't know
if that would have worked out," she said.
To Mr. Ferris, 63, a family vacation meant packing
Susanne and their three children into the family car and
setting off for Columbus, Ohio, to visit relatives. If he
wanted to support a local firehouse or church, he did not
just open his checkbook: he went door to door in Garden
City, N.Y., asking for donations.
Similarly, at Aon Corporation, where he was a senior
vice president, he was just as likely to befriend a
secretary as he was an executive.
Mr. Ferris went to Haiti after Hurricane Georges in
1998 to visit his son, Bob, a doctor in his first year
out of medical school. Mr. Ferris volunteered at a nearby
Roman Catholic orphanage, where the children called him
Mr. Ferris's son went on to work in the intensive care
unit at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan. He was on
duty Sept. 11, and from the hospital saw smoke billowing
from the first tower.
"Bobby, you won't believe what I'm seeing," Mr. Ferris
told his son on the telephone.
Minutes later, the second plane hit. Mr. Ferris's son
was one of the doctors waiting for ambulances that never