Beyond 9/11: Life and Legacy of Joan Donna Griffith - A Conversation with My Father, Peter Griffith
Peter Griffith was born in Barbados, and in junior high school, he emigrated to Brooklyn, New York. He was married to Joan Donna Griffith for 20 years before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11 stole her life. Together, they raised two children, Paula and Joann. He is an avid photographer, bird enthusiast, and enjoys science fiction. He also likes to draw, journal, and occasionally smoke a cigar.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Peter Griffith’s introduction to the United States and his schooling experience
- How Peter met Joan Donna Griffith and the story of their wedding
- The family dynamic in the Griffith household
- How 9/11 changed everything for the Griffith family
- Joan Donna Griffith’s workplace legacy
- The Griffiths’ stories of 9/11
- Mourning and the ongoing grieving process
- The life and continuous memory of Joan Donna Griffith
In this episode:
Leaders and successful professionals are molded by their mentors and those who support them along the way. For many, no figures are as essential and as beloved as parents. They shape us, and we often follow in their footsteps. As we progress in our careers, we look back and pay our respects to those who influenced us the most.
Paula Edgar’s mother was a foundational part of her life. Joan Donna Griffith helped Paula develop as a person and a motivated professional. In her own right, Joan was an accomplished assistant VP and office manager and an admired figure in her community. Unfortunately, she was a victim of the 9/11 attacks, which left her family grieving but also to keep in their memories. Paula’s father, Peter Griffith, is here to share Joan’s legacy and how she impacted many people’s lives.
In this special episode of Branding Room Only, Paula Edgar is joined by her father, Peter Griffith, to celebrate and remember Paula’s mother, Joan Donna Griffith. They talk about how Peter and Joan met, their introduction to the United States, and how they started a family. They dive deep into Joan’s legacy, who she was, and how she is missed.
Resources mentioned in this episode
- Paula Edgar
- Paula Edgar on LinkedIn
- A Tribute to My Mother Joan Donna Griffith
- Angela Titus (Attorney who helped the family navigate the estate process)
- Sage Software (Paula’s employer during 9/11)
Sponsor for this episode
This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.
PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.
Paula Edgar: Hi everybody, it’s Paula Edgar, host of Branding Room Only, and I’m excited today to be doing a special episode of the podcast featuring one of the people who has shaped my brand and had me become an influencer and influenced my life. And I’m so excited to be talking to my father, Peter L. Griffith, on today’s podcast. Daddy, introduce yourself to the Branding Room Only audience.
Peter Griffith: Hello everyone. My name is Peter L. Griffith. I was born in Barbados. I came to the United States when I was 14 years old. And that’s a long story. By the way, the book won’t be out for a while, but, you know.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. That’ll be the next episode. So where did you come to when you got off of the plane from Barbados?
Peter Griffith: So coming into, coming into JFK, dressed up in a jacket and a tie and slacks and looking out the window and seeing the swimming pools … because the plane I guess, came over Long Island and seeing the blue of the swimming pools and all the backyards and stuff, you know, I was finally in America, you know, the great country and it was a wonderful sight. It didn’t match the house that I ended up going to in what was then Ocean Hill Brownsville, I think that was what it was called on Chauncey Street, 634 Chauncey Street to be exact. First thing that hit me was the smell of the house. It smelled. And I had never, I had never experienced a smell like that before. ’cause it was just, it was different from what I expected … well, not what I expected, but what I was accustomed to in the Caribbean.
Paula Edgar: So just for the audience’s sake, the address that Daddy just gave was in Brooklyn, which is I think, the most important part of this, which is the, the best borough. And you all know that I am not at all shy about the fact that I love Brooklyn and it’s my favorite borough. And so growing up in Brooklyn as a teenager, you then went to high school in East New York.
Peter Griffith: No, I went to junior high school first. Oh, right. I went to junior high school. I.S. 271. John M. Herkimer High School, John M. Coleman, I think High School on Herkimer Street in Ocean Hill Brownsville is what they called it then.
Paula Edgar: Okay. Okay. All right then.
Peter Griffith: And then I graduated from junior high, which was a horrendous experience for a Barbadian kid with a very thick accent who was brought up in schools that required you to raise your hand when you wanted to speak, and you had to call the teacher, sir and ma’am, and stuff like that.
And then go into a junior high school where everybody, where it seems like chaos because the kids were just wild. But that it was, it was a pretty horrific experience to me. You know, kids can be very mean, especially when you’re different. And I was very different. So leaving junior high school, high school was a dream. The kids were more civilized. And I met a lot of other kids who were from the West Indies also and I no longer felt alone. Because I felt very alone in junior high school because the people, I guess, who were West Indian weren’t identifying themselves as West Indian.
Paula Edgar: That’s interesting because when you think about, and I always try to tie things back on the podcast to what your brand is, and to think about how popular the Caribbean experience is now versus back then when it was .. you know, you were just in another group of immigrants that were coming into this country and having an accent and being different was not necessarily cherished in the way it is now.
Peter Griffith: No, it wasn’t because the kids told me that we were taking their jobs. I didn’t really understand that because my mother worked as a maid. I didn’t understand that at all, but, you know, it is what it is. It was difficult.
Paula Edgar: Okay. So then high school.
Peter Griffith: High school was, like I said, high school was a dream. In high school, I found, well, I found myself in junior high school because I started to blossom as a student.
Something which I was not good at in Barbados. I was, I was really, I would say that I was a C minus student in Barbados. And I came and went to junior high school and found myself doing A work. I think they put me back a grade, which was like the best thing they probably could have done for me.
And that, I mean, I was unbelievable in high school, in junior high school. And when I think about my experience in high school it was wonderful. It was fun. After my first, after my first semester, I had like 86 or 87 you know average. And they asked me if I wanted to join a special program for kids that were doing well.
And that’s how I joined what was then called College Discovery. And that was really an experience because that meant that I was then with kids who were really interested in learning all the time. We had couple years of Math and English, and I think I did pretty well in high school, only failed one class. And I blamed a young lady whose name is Jacqueline Isaacs. I don’t know where she is now, but…
Paula Edgar: Calling the people’s name out.
Peter Griffith: I’m sorry, I blame her because you were sitting in the back of the class and I talked to her a lot and I failed the, the regions, but they could have passed me in the class and they didn’t. So that was the only class I failed in high school.
Paula Edgar: This is, this is an interesting revelation because I definitely know that there was times when I was young where I was told that I should not be talking in the back of class and I should be focusing, but that’s a whole other story. I’ll talk about that in therapy.
Anyway, so then as you progressed through high school. And it, the interesting piece about you saying that you were in this College Discovery is that given what the Supreme Court has done recently that probably would’ve been considered a program that was a pipeline program leading into college to bring inner city people of color.
Peter Griffith: Yeah. Yeah. But that’s, you know, basically it was basically it was, yeah and it the interesting about it was that, you know, they gave us a foundation, but the foundation was not good as, because when I got to Brooklyn College am I allowed to say Brooklyn College?
Paula Edgar: Of course you are allowed to say Brooklyn College, that’s where you went.
Peter Griffith: When I got to Brooklyn College, I was totally overmatched because the kids that were there knew a whole lot more about lots of different things that I wasn’t exposed to in high school. But, you know, I dragged myself through college and thankfully I graduated.
Paula Edgar: So, I mean, I guess we…
Peter Griffith: I must say with a degree in history, with a minor in education. Okay.
Paula Edgar: Alright. Relax. So there was a milestone that we skipped, which is me … through there… So everybody a little preface for what you should and shouldn’t do in high school. Is that in the meantime, in the between time I was born, so…
Peter Griffith: ’77 February.
Paula Edgar: You don’t have to talk about the years. Relax.
Peter Griffith: February 14th. Can I do that then?
Paula Edgar: There you go. There you go. Valentine’s baby.
Peter Griffith: Yes, yes, yes. It was one of the best moments of my life.
Paula Edgar: Aw. Yeah. Daddy. For those of you who have not sort of checked into my background or have even heard me talk about how I was raised, et cetera, that you should know that I have my biological mother, obviously who gave birth to me was who we were talking about, who my father was with at that time in high school.
Yes. And then we’ll move on to talk about who, who raised me. And I think that the crux of what I wanted to get to in terms of this story so let’s fast forward a little bit. So, okay. You then had a young child that you had to take care of. Yes. And then you had to go to work.
Peter Griffith: My mother had told me that as long as I was in college, she would she would take care of me in terms of, you know, what my needs and all of a sudden here I am with a pregnant girlfriend and I had to go to work, and that was a horrible experience and I say horrible in terms of, I should not have been working.
I should have been just concentrating on school, but I had to go to work. And work was I worked, first worked in a factory, you know, you just trying, trying to find any job you can. I worked in a factory which was horrible. And then I got a job working at a law firm as a clerk and a messenger and stuff like that.
And that was I got to see a side of people who were different than me, and who looked down on me because of my color. The thing was that, I was raised that you are not better than me and although they might have been lawyers, I didn’t care, I’m still Loretta’s son.
Paula Edgar: Okay. Yeah. So side, side note on that one, because then I think about, again, bringing it back to branding and being better or not, than other people, thinking that way. I remember how important it was for my grandmother, Loretta, who you, who you just mentioned that we dressed a certain way.
Right. And I, and I, that’s, that’s been a straight line for the most part of my entire life, because I think that baton was also carried by Mommy and we’re gonna get in talking her about her in a minute.
Peter Griffith: Can I, can I, can I interrupt you and say this?
Paula Edgar: Yeah. Please.
Peter Griffith: My, my mother, Loretta. It’s interesting that somebody told me, looking at, looking at their pictures online, you remind them so much of her and how she dressed and I was like, yeah, okay. But I mean, she made sure that you had great, great clothes. And it was, it was just amazing. But she did a lot in terms of helping to raise you obviously because I couldn’t provide for you the way that I would’ve liked to. And she really assisted in terms of making sure that you were well dressed and looking spectacular.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. You know, obviously I was young ’cause she’s my grandma, but I was, I was young and I remember her doing two things. One, baking and cooking and the other one was like making sure that I looked like I remember her, like fixing me.
And, and so I had the experience of that sort of Barbados side of my family when I was growing up. But it’s interesting because as I progressed later on, my Jamaican side, which I, you know, both my biological mother and Mommy we’ll talk about in a minute, are both Jamaican. And so that is a very much huge part of the culture that I was cultured in.
Even though I only went to visit Jamaica when I turned 40. And so but we’ll talk about that a little bit more, so, okay. Okay. Okay. So now you’ve worked as a law firm and again, iron because your daughter’s a lawyer. They’re not better than you now! Anyway…
Peter Griffith: It’s funny that I, when, when I left high school, well, when, when I, when, when you gave out the information in school about high school, about what you wanted to be.
My high school yearbook said I wanted to be a lawyer. Mm. It’s something that I seriously considered, but, you know low expectations are a horrible thing to have. And, and you know I wanted that, but I didn’t have a roadmap. I didn’t have somebody to explain to me what it was going to be like, and the difference in my life and yours is that you had me and Mommy.
Who had a roadmap and who could say, these are the opportunities that could be available to you and I didn’t, I needed, it needed in a sense that Mommy, and I think that’s one of the reasons why you were poured into the way you were. Because especially the fact that you went to Deerfield.
That was, that was us pouring into ourselves in a sense, because we both would’ve liked to have had that kind of experience, which is why having you go there was such a proud moment for us. I mean it killed me in terms of how much it cost, but I look back on it now, look back on the bills that they sent asking for their money, but, but I, I think the money was well spent.
I mean, I could not have, I could not have expected that you would become the person you were when you left Deerfield. Because if I, as I go to Deerfield and hear them talk about you, we would look at each other like this, Paula? Because we, we know, we know what you were like at home, and you were, you were not like that at Deerfield at all.
You were unbelievable, and everybody seemed to love you. And they were like, oh, Paula is this, and Paula is the who you are now is who you were becoming at Deerfield. I mean, that’s just blooming like, and I mean, just to see the woman that you were becoming. Mommy just absolutely loved that.
Of course, I must say this, that our goal in life was to get you and Joann out the house. So we could have the house to ourselves, but that’s beside the point. Let’s…
Paula Edgar: Well, well, well, I now, now I’ve been taking again, that baton because we’ve got now my husband and we have one kid out, and we’re waiting for the other kid to get out.
I mean, we love them so much. Yes. Anyway so you talked about, and we’ll skip around a little bit, but you, we, we started talking about Mommy, but we haven’t said who Mommy is. And what I wanted to do is to kind of draw the like continual line as to you worked at the law firm and then you worked where, and then where did you meet Mommy?
Peter Griffith: Okay. So I worked at Merrill Lynch. Which was then Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith. In 100 Broadway, in Manhattan. And you wanna know how I met her?
Paula Edgar: Yes, but keep it for, for the public, please.
Peter Griffith: So, so I was, we, we my, the way, how it was the, the office I worked in I could look down the hallway from where I was sitting and I could see into another office down there. And I saw her one day and in fact I actually saw her on the elevator and I was taken aback by, you know her obvious good looks and physical qualities.
Paula Edgar: You should have been a politician. Anyway.
Peter Griffith: I think I and I, I really, I mean, I liked her. She was just beaming. She was, you know, there was just something about her.
And a couple of days after I saw her we were both coming out the number four, the number five train at Wall Street stop the Wall Street. No, whatever the stop was near Wall Street. And as we came through the turnstile, I saw her and I said, hi, how are you? And she says, hi. I said, I’m Peter from Barbados.
And she said, I’m Joan from Jamaica. I was like, famous lines, you know, and listen, I never said I was the smoothest in the world, but I went outta my way and I spoke to her and I guess we walked, walked to work together. And that basically was it for the beginning of our relationship, you know, talking to each other or whatever.
Paula Edgar: So, fast forward a little bit more. So you both got married in 19…
Peter Griffith: Before, before I do this? Yeah. Let, lemme lemme tell you what happened after that. Okay. So I was seeing someone at a time. Okay. And who shall remain nameless? Good. I had a date one night. And we used to work until nine o’clock at night.
Just back then, there was a lot of overtime and stuff, and she worked late and we saw each other in the hallway and I said to her, you know, would you like to go out to dinner? And she said, sure. So we went to a place called the China Chalet on Broadway and we sat down and we ate.
And after that we went over to Battery Park. And we walked around a little bit, you know, and then I said, can I kiss you? And she said, yes. So we kissed. And I turned to her and I said I’m sure you could do better than that. That was like a one or two.
Paula Edgar: Oh my God.
Peter Griffith: So she, she did better than that. And it was, you know, from there we were seeing each other, you know, a lot after that.
Paula Edgar: So, yeah. So fast forward. You get married and you get married in 1981, September 5th. And at that point I was three or four. Four. Yeah. And so you then have a new wife. Yes. And I wasn’t living …
Peter Griffith: A new wife, who was I think 19. She, yeah, she was 19, yeah.
Paula Edgar: Yep. Yes. So a new young wife.
Peter Griffith: Yes.
Paula Edgar: And I wasn’t living with you yet.
Peter Griffith: No.
Paula Edgar: And so a little, little bit after that, let’s, without going to all of the details I then moved in with you both. Yes. So that must’ve been easy.
Peter Griffith: No, it wasn’t. It was, it was, it was difficult because, you know her expectation was that she would have her husband and she would enjoy you know living without the thought of having a child anytime soon and, you know, go out and party and stuff. Like, we weren’t big party people, but, you know, having the ability to go where you want and stuff like that was all done. For me it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
And I say that because I wanted to raise you. Because I knew, I knew that you were special from when you were younger. You were very conscious of a lot of stuff. You were very smart and I just wanted you, I, I just felt that I could do a good job of raising you and making you the best, the best version of you possible. Basically a mini me. But, you know, it’s beside the point. I wanted to give you the education that I had, the you know, there was something inside me about education and that was something that drove me, and I wanted to be able to give that to you.
Not just the ABCs, but the, I mean, as somebody who studied history, I knew I could give you a well-rounded education about life as a grown up as a Black girl, a Black person in this country, and stuff like that and I wanted to do that. So it was, for me, a great thing. For her. It wasn’t so much.
But when you, when you love someone you stretch yourself and at some point, I don’t, I don’t know. I mean, obviously she’s not here to be able to say where, where that moment came with the light went on with her and it’s just like, okay, this is Peter’s child and we have to deal with this.
And she just embraced you as her own and I mean, embrace you, like, you know, the hug, you know, that big giant hug that you are mine now and that was one of the best things that happened also, because then it wasn’t, she was no longer your stepmother. Then we told you that you couldn’t call her Donna anymore. You had to call her Mommy. Yeah. And just like that you started calling her Mommy. And that’s Mommy.
Paula Edgar: That’s funny. ’cause I don’t remember, I don’t, I’ve, this is the first time I’ve heard you say that I, I called her Donna before, but I guess that makes sense. So, so just for, for everybody who’s listening along to kind of pull this through.
When I say Mommy, that’s who I’m referring to because that’s who my, my Mommy’s who raised me. So my mother, Joan Donna Griffith is who my father married and in ‘81. And she, you know, the fact that she was 19 as I got older and understood how young she was. Yeah. I think, was a helpful factor in terms of us bonding because, you know, she was very playful.
Right? Yeah. She was very much like you know, it felt seamless and easy. And I remember one of the memories that I have and I always tell my kids about this is how soft her hands were. And that she would like lotion my legs and I would just sit back and be like, oh, this is like the best.
And without any knowledge of any other way of being, but I remember that. And when you think about like, the things that your mother does, like hug you and your mother’s touch and cooking and all those things, those are the, the, the things that, that I remember. And I, I wanted to kind of bring us to this conversation because, you know Mommy, for us, was pretty much everything. Yes. The audience and the folks who are listening, and will see this later on mostly only know who Mommy is because of what happened to her. Yeah, yeah. Right. Yeah. And, and so we haven’t gotten to that yet, but I want to sort of preface it in that one of the reasons why I wanted to have this conversation with you is because many people have heard about me, I talk about Mommy all the time.
But I wanted to have the opportunity for us to talk about who Mommy was for us and to put a, not just story, but some, some depth to her, her legacy, right. And who and who she was and how she added value and left her mark and impact on, on the world. And that’s so important. So we know how you met her. Tell me, what are some of the favorite memories you had of those early days? Couple will be good. What comes up for you?
Peter Griffith: I think just the fact that she was smart. You know, it’s good to find someone who matches you in terms of your intellectual ability. She was really, really intelligent and she was an avid reader. And we spent many hours together reading, I, reading my science fiction, she reading her romance novels. We had really good times. I mean, you know, having a, having a, having a four year old means that there’s lots of stuff you can’t do.
But I think the extended family of Juliette and Phyllis and … who are her sisters… You know, they made it easy because we could always take you over there. And they could always babysit and when they want to go out, they can always bring their kids to us. And there was always that sense that there were always people around, there was always a family situation.
But specifically we spent, we went camping. You remember this one particular time? Just me and her. And I. we were new to camping and we went to a place called Uncle Pete’s in the I think in the Adirondacks in near Kingston, New York. And we got up there in my little orange Toyota Celica.
I know you remember that car. I do. Yes. And we went up there and we had this little tent wasn’t very big, and it was pouring. And we found some place that was nice and dry and we set the tent up and everything. This is the first time we, I think we’d ever really gone camping. And it rained like crazy and it rained to the point where it was seeping into the tent, under the tent.
We were wet, got up in the middle of the night and went in the car and slept. I mean, the next morning we were like, okay, it’s time to go home ’cause this is it. And we drove into Kingston and we found a laundromat. We drove back to the site and got the tent and the stuff And took it to the laundromat and washed it and went back and found a dry place and had a really great time.
I mean, one of the things about her is that she was very affectionate and loving. And I mean, since I’m an affectionate person We were perfect for each other in that way, you know? We were always hugging on each other, always dancing together and You know, just touching each other, you know, it was, it was not, it was nothing to be in the kitchen kissing each other mm-hmm and having people tell you to get a room, you know?
Paula Edgar: Yeah. Yes. So, you know, I’ll, I’ll take a pause there because I, you know, I grew up in East New York, Brooklyn, that’s where we live for you know, most of my childhood and a lot of my friends didn’t have a family unit that was together, you know, a husband and a wife.
And so my friends would come over and be like (A) oh my goodness, your dad’s there. And then (B) you know, you all would be hugging all over each other, et cetera. And I think that for so many of my friends, you were their family unit too, right? It wasn’t just me understanding that that’s who you all were, but them and I, you know, and that having that structure, whether, you know, sort of adopted or not in that space was helpful to so many people to see what they wanna strive for. Yeah, right. I knew from when I was very young that that’s a family unit that I wanted, I did not want, you know, I mean, obviously people don’t necessarily want to have structure, you know fractured family units, but I wanted to have something similar to what you all had.
Peter Griffith: Yeah. And, and I mean, to, to the point. You also had Juliette and Phyllis who also had Yep. you know a male in the home also. So it was something that you saw as a normal As not an abnormal thing. So, I mean, you know was, it was never something that was, I mean, it was not something you talked about, but it was just, it was just how it was and, and to us taking showers together and just being…
Paula Edgar: Alright. Okay. All right, Daddy. Okay. So, oh goodness. Anyway so I wanna take a quick sidestep. So Mommy was from Jamaica.
Peter Griffith: Yes. She came to the United States, I think when she was, I’m not even sure how old she was, but I know she went to elementary school. Yep. And I think she graduated a year early from Erasmus, I think she went to another high school, but she went to Erasmus for her last year and was able to, to come out, I think a year earlier or six months earlier or something like that. And then she went to Florida State.
And she was there, I think for two years when she got ill. She developed Bell’s Palsy. And that’s how come she was back in New York. She came to New York for treatment and while she was here, she got a job. Mind you, she had a boyfriend in Florida, but you know, he, when I, when I came around, he was gone.
Paula Edgar: But, you know. Okay. Alright. Anyway, so this is like turning into a Dynasty episode, but anyway, okay. I’m sorry. Yeah, so, so I wanted to just make sure that we made that connection in terms of where she’d come from and Yeah. And you’re saying so, and Mommy has three sisters, two brothers Calvin and Junior and that, and and we talked about Ruth, Juliette, and, and so and then they all have a myriad of my cousins who are peppering the world.
Cause you know, if we said if we did this and did not mention them, we would be in trouble. So I don’t wanna be in trouble. And I hope to be able to do a podcast with my aunts as well at some point.
Peter Griffith: Oh, that would be great.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. Okay. So we talked about some of the favorite memories, and I guess I’ll share a couple as well.
I’m glad you mentioned that my Mommy loved to read because I lament the fact that now we can read on devices because my kids don’t actually see me holding a lot of books. Yeah. Although I do read a lot as well. Yeah. But I was just this past weekend at Grand Army Plaza at the library, and it brought back all of these memories.
I mean, I was there to see the Jay-Z exhibit, but that’s another story. But it brought back all these memories of when we used to go there and Mommy would just pack tote bags full of those Harlequin romances and other romance novels, and she read so, so much. Like I would see her with a book all the time.
And both of you, to your point about being avid readers, it instilled upon me that reading was something that I had to do. Because there would just be times where all of us would be in a room reading. Reading. Yes. Yep. And the other thing is museums and, and sort of love of like, like places we were we, we did New York stuff.
Right. Which is, and I think I realized that I don’t necessarily do as much New York stuff, and I didn’t do as much New York stuff with my kids because they have opportunities to go other places. Right. But we didn’t, you know, we weren’t like, you know, affluent and, but we did do a lot of things that were New York focused.
And, and then when I was eight, along came my sister and Joann was born. And so then we had a family structure that was different than, you know, I had you both to myself, and then we had, you know, my, my sister and that shifted a lot for us. Yeah. In terms of our family unit. So, talk a little bit about that.
Peter Griffith: It obviously it creates a different dynamic because now the focus is no longer on you. You know, the focus is on her. And, you know, she was in the hospital ’cause she was, she was born two pounds, six ounces.
Paula Edgar: Eight ounces. Eight ounces.
Peter Griffith: Okay. Two pounds, eight.
Paula Edgar: You’re welcome.
Peter Griffith: She was, she was in the hospital for a couple of months and that was hard on Mommy because she would go there every day and feed her and with a, a little syringe or whatever, and she would come home and sometimes she would cry about it because, you know, her baby was in the hospital and then she came home and everything changed because now the focus, like I said, was no longer on you.
But, but then you were old enough to, you know, I guess to understand that, you know, now you have a little sister to play with or whatever. Which I don’t think you particularly liked, but you know you know, kids are, kids are funny at that age because especially when everything is about them and now the focus is on something else.
Paula Edgar: Yes, yes. Definitely. I remember the shift. But it was, it was interesting because I, I think at least, and again, I’m, I’m thinking of it from obviously my perspective of as a, as a young kid, but I felt like for Mommy, it felt like it was the, it was the unit was whole. Was more whole. Yeah. Because Right.
’cause then you both had a child of your own right. And but to that end, I never, in my entire life felt as if I wasn’t her child. Like it was very much like, like we did Girl Scouts together, we did all of these things that we did and it was never in my mind any question that I can remember.
Peter Griffith: To the fact that, to the fact that most of your cousins didn’t know that you had a different mother.
Paula Edgar: Yep. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So okay. So then I go away to boarding school. Yes. So I went to Deerfield Academy, which my father mentioned a little bit earlier, which is in Deerfield, Massachusetts, which is in Western Mass.
And it’s a boarding school, so you’re living there. And so I left when I was 14. And at that point, was it before? No, it was right. It was right after that. Then you all moved to New Jersey?
Peter Griffith: Yes. Yes. I think, I don’t know what year you went to boarding school, but we came up here in ‘92.
Paula Edgar: Yeah, ‘91 is when I went to…
Peter Griffith: Oh, I, we came up here in ‘92. A lot of it was the, the neighborhood was really changing drastically. And Mommy was like, you know, Joann is gonna start school soon. Let’s get outta here. And we, in a couple of months we moved up here. That was a big change for us. Now you’re, you’re living in, in the suburbs and you have to worry about mowing the lawn and, you know, all kinds of different stuff.
And it was difficult ’cause we were commuting every day from Willingboro, which is like, I think 90 miles away from New York or something like that. Every day to New York, we would get up ridiculous hours of the morning and have to take the bus into the city.
And that was difficult because that drive was hard on your body. And but I mean, we, we, I mean, it’s something we decided we wanted to do, so it was, it wasn’t a matter of, we had to, it was a matter of we wanted to do this, so we, we did.
Paula Edgar: So that, that commute is something that when I think about the, the Mommy reading books, like she would, that’s what she would be getting her stock for the week for, and then, and then would read books and then would return them back and you know, she would read what, two or three books, like going up and coming back and, yeah.
Peter Griffith: Yeah, she tore those books up like crazy. She was unbelievable reader. And the thing about it was she would not read anything else. She wouldn’t read, she wouldn’t read biographies. She would not read any…and the one of the things that people don’t realize about these books is these books, because there are a lot of, you know, a lot of romance, there’s a lot of ’em are set in Europe and different places and stuff.
And, and that idea of going places in a book, she went lots of places and she knew lots of stuff because she read these books. I mean, you can think that you don’t gain anything from reading them, but just reading them brings you information that you’ll not have before about how people live, how you’re supposed to do things. I mean, she knew a whole lot about a whole lot of stuff from reading these books.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. And I mean, and I mean, I’m sure that… that was most of what I saw. But in terms of the knowledge point, she also watched a lot of musicals. She like, you know, she, she ingested a lot of information a lot of different ways.
Yes and you know, a part of what I remember a lot is how we love Mary Poppins. Like we loved a lot of the musicals because, you know, that’s what we would sit and watch together when I was a kid and when I was older as well too. So I’m thinking about when I was away at boarding school in 1993.
Mommy and, and you all were still commuting to to and from New York City, you know, lower Manhattan to Willingboro, New Jersey. And I remember when the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. Yeah. That I remember being pulled outta class and they, them saying that the, that the, the towers had been bombed and, and I remember being up until that late, that night and then, and then calling and having a call with you all because she had finally come home. And I remember her talking about going down the stairs and her back had hurt and all that stuff. But what I remember the most from that was her saying that she was gonna go back.
It wasn’t that night, but it was after that like, I remember being like, okay, well they’re bombing stuff, so let’s not go there. But I remember specifically having a conversation with her, with her saying that she was gonna go back. And so tell me about how, how, how that was on the adult side when all that happened.
Peter Griffith: Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about it. It was just like a blip. A blip in, in our lives. I know, you know, coming down all them stairs and stuff was difficult for her. But beyond that it wasn’t, it wasn’t any, we didn’t really have a conversation about whether she was gonna go back or not. At least I don’t remember. And, and, and I need you to understand that there’s a lot of stuff I don’t remember because there’ve been a lot of, since obviously, September the 11th, there’s been a lot of brain trauma and you know, with that, and there’s a lot of memories that I really don’t, I really don’t have anymore.
Paula Edgar: Let’s just tell the truth also that Mommy and I talked together every day and I would talk yeah. My mother…
Peter Griffith: Daddy would get a call when the car window wouldn’t go down, otherwise Daddy wouldn’t hear from you. But Mommy would come home and say, yeah, I, I sent her some money today. I mean, the thing about it is just like, whatever, whatever she did with you she would come home and tell me I did this or I did that, or whatever, whatever. So we knew what was, we knew what was going on in terms of how things were going with you and how she might’ve been helping you or whatever, which is always been a big focus in her life. You know?
Paula Edgar: Yeah. My mother, you know, back in those days that, you know, you had to pay per minute when you had calls and, and long and long distance, et cetera.
So, but at at her job and, and Mommy worked at Fiduciary Trust in the World Trade Center, she had a 800 number. So I, I, and I was in boarding school, so I would literally call her every day and they would put me on hold and go find her. And I love that. And she’d be like, what do you want? I’m like, just to say hi.
Like, but we would talk. And she would tell me what’s going on with the family and, and, you know, she was really like my lifeline to what was happening otherwise, because, you know, that was before email and social media and all that stuff. So I didn’t really know other than those calls. And so what I remember about that time was feeling super disconnected because something had happened, but the person who would be telling me about it normally was in it.
And so, and, and, and that fear that I had because it had happened there and, you know, terrorism was something that happened in other countries, right. It wasn’t anything that we worried about. We worried about like, local crime as opposed to, you know crime that was… Exactly. So let’s, let’s fast forward, well, let’s talk a little bit more about there’s one question that I, I think that I wanted to hear your thoughts about.
We kind of talked about how she was as a mother. I don’t know if you wanna add anything else about her as a mother for me and Joann, et cetera, just generally,
Peter Griffith: Let’s talk about you for a moment. Okay. And the fact that you wouldn’t get up in the morning unless you had hot chocolate. And the hot chocolate was brought to you.
I think then you had, we had bunk beds and you would get your hot chocolate with your eyes closed and you would drink the hot chocolate. You would not get up unless you had the hot chocolate. Who you know, you do what you have to do in order to get your kids going. Yeah. And we, we, we did what we had to do.
I mean, she was just, she was just so wonderful in terms of how she took care of you and took care of Joann and, you know, made sure everything was okay with the two of you. And you know, yeah, she was, she was a wonderful person, wonderful mother. Yes.
Paula Edgar: And she could cook. I know, I think about the full package of a wife in the traditional roles, like she worked and she commuted and she cooked and she cleaned. Oh my goodness. She cleaned yeah…
Peter Griffith: She would, she would come home and have a meal ready in like 40 minutes or something. And she could, I mean, you know, I would talk to her about this stuff. She could take a recipe and know what to, what to substitute for what she didn’t have or whatever. I couldn’t understand a lot of that stuff, how she did this, how she knew what to substitute or whatever.
But she was really good at cooking and baking and stuff like that. She was, she was really a, a well-rounded person. Yep. Very.
Paula Edgar: Yes and, you know, to, to kind of tie into what I was talking about with my grandmother, she also, my mother was very much a dresser. Yes. And when I think about how I tell my kids to, you know, walk outside looking a certain way and then right and, and that when I’m gonna do something I’m speaking, et cetera, that I know that I have to look a certain way. That was a direct connection to how Mommy raised me. Right. Whether or not I rebelled at some point. ’cause we know that I did. I understood and knew what the parameters were and it’s a part of how I built my brand around particularly having a knowledge and understanding of how to show up.
Peter Griffith: You are not going outside like that. Nope. Come back. Come back.
Paula Edgar: There was a lot of come backs … there was a lot of come backs, especially when we lived in Brooklyn, but it’s okay. Anyway. Actually one anecdote that I remember speaking of dressing was that when I went to Deerfield, you know, I was this kid from East New York.
Right. But I had, I had, I think we had the lower part of middle class. Lower part of middle class. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. But we, but we showed up as a middle and up, right. And so my mother was like, you have to have penny loafers. She’s like, you have to have penny loafers in order to go to boarding school, because that’s what they have.
And then, you know, people said you put pennies inside the penny loafers. But she, I remember she was like, well, I’m gonna put two dimes in there because, so you remember, you remember your value. And I was like, why are we putting coins in these shoes? But when I think about it now it was like you set a standard, right?
Like that I was gonna be in this place where folks had more resources, knew more. Right. But that they were not better than me. Right. Yes. So that same kind of connection that you talked about before.
So I wanted to, to sort of share that because there’s a lot of lessons that I learned when you talk about shaping who I am, and that’s even being here, right here now is because of the values and the lessons and the things that Mommy taught me and and that I experienced with, with both of you as my, as my parents.
Okay. So let’s talk about some of the, you know, we talked about her reading, but songs that she loved quotes or anything…
Peter Griffith: She loved, I mean, the, the thing about her is she loved music from the sixties. You know, we, we both had love for like, Beach Boys music, Beatles music, I mean just, just, and singing around the house, you know, singing out loud and just, you know, just enjoying the atmosphere in the house because I played a lot of music and because of that we always had what they say, the soundtrack of our lives.
And, you know, and it was really something because after she died, I realized how much the music meant to our relationship, and it was hard for me to deal with that, you know, because I did a lot of crying at my desk at work, hearing music that touched me because it was music that we shared together. There’s some music now that I’m still not comfortable listening to because it was very special to her and special to me.
And she was just, like I said, a wonderful wife. And, and even better than that, she was a really good friend. She was a really good friend. I mean, when you have somebody who’s as smart as you are, you can’t, you can’t come with bullshit. You have to come, I mean, she was, she had that kind of brain where she could take something and break it down and know what to do with it. She was, in many ways, a lot smarter than I was. But, you know, it’s Mommy.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. When I think about, you know, growing up, I, the, the music was a big, big piece of it, and the one song that comes up whenever I think about her song as opposed to a musical Is Rainy Days and Mondays.
Peter Griffith: Yes. Yes. There was something about that, I think when she was younger. I don’t know, I don’t remember the story behind it, but that song meant a whole lot to her because I think it’s a song that as she might’ve heard, or it, it did, it did something to her. I think she did a lot of cleaning on Saturday mornings to that music and, I mean, she was younger and so it was, it was something that she always, she always liked to hear because it made her feel good.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. Like I, I can, I remember her like singing it like out loud and, and, and it’s interesting because now I, like, I hear that song and I’m like, maybe like I’m thinking like, but it doesn’t have the connection other than to her. Right? It’s not like I don’t have whatever the deeper piece of it’s. Yes. Yeah.
But, there was definitely a lot of music played out loud when I grew up. The other thing that you used to do all the time was to have the, there’s a lot of video of our lives. Yes. And you just, and this was like before there was terabyte mini chips. It was actually video, like VHS tapes of that, you would just have the, you know, the VCR running and because of that, and I’m grateful for that as being part of, of who you are, that there’s a lot of just video of us being us.
Peter Griffith: Yes, yes, yes. I mean the, you know, and one of the things is because I’m a photographer You know, and, and you, you, you get memories from looking at pictures.
And one I have in particular is us going to the beach to fly a kite. You know, and it’s like the things I wanted for you, the things that I had when I was growing up. And I mean, we did stuff that I would have wanted to do or I did when I was young. And that was one of the memories that really, I mean, she didn’t have to come, but, you know, if we were going someplace, and, and that’s another thing too we were always together. We were together a lot. Which is when I, I think about the fact that we were together for 20 years and what five days or six days. We spent a lot more time than that together. I mean, it was, you can say it’s 20 years, but it was a hell of a lot more than that because it was packed into, it was packed into those, those 20 years that we spent together.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. Gosh. I just thought about the kites. I can see the pictures. And I wanna, I don’t wanna to run over that point because when you’re thinking about, I started off saying that you were instrumental in on building my brand because you were, but one of the things I’m very serious about is pictures and how they’re framed and, and, and how they’re structured and how people look in them.
And I’m, I would say a little, a little bit more than serious about it. I’m a little bit obsessed to my kids who do not want to take pictures and I don’t care, and I’m gonna make them take pictures. But I’ve been documenting my entire life, like I have pictures from my, when I was baby all the way.
And, and a lot of people can’t say that. And, and to think about how technology has shifted during that time that you still, number one, understood the importance of documenting. Like, I look back at those pictures and I think how lucky I am to be able to, to, to see them and know throughout those times that we, you know, that it was important for you to do.
And that is something that I directly attribute to you having that love too, that I have the love as well, except that I use an Android phone as opposed to an actual camera. Okay. Anyway, I’ll, I’ll get to, I’ll get to it at some point, being an actual camera, camera person. Okay. So there was a lot in there to your point about it being packed.
I want to, before we move on to talking about 9/11, was when you think about some of the dreams and aspirations that Mommy had, what comes up?
Peter Griffith: I, I think she wanted to, to graduate college. I think that was a big thing for her. And she did go back. She went to Medgar Evers for a couple of semesters, but it’s kind of tough having kids and trying to go to school at night. And that was difficult, obviously. She never did finish because we moved up here and then that commute destroyed any chance of being able to go to school because it was basically an hour and a half each way.
But I think the big thing was that she wanted, she wanted you and Joann to have a better life than she had, because I think her growing up was kind of rough. And I think she poured into you and into Joann the values that she grew up with and, and the values that we shared together are the values of valuing education, valuing family valuing fun, you know valuing laughter, you know, and, and reading. And, and really understanding how important education was to your success. And that was a big, big deal for her.
Paula Edgar: Every single time, you know, you, I know a fact, but every single time you remind me that Mommy didn’t graduate, I’m always like, what?
I’m shocked in my head because education was such an important piece for her. Yes. And I remember you all, I was like a latchkey kid. You all going, you know, to school at night and, and going to college. So that the point of you all making that effort, whether or not a degree came from it for her was solidified. Like I knew that I had to go to college. Like it was not a question as to whether I was going to, to be doing that or not.
Peter Griffith: I think, I think that was, that was drilled into you from early. So there wasn’t any choice about going to college because it was always, it was always if I couldn’t achieve college, you had to, you had to pass me in terms of what you did.
Yeah. And I’m very happy that you did. I mean, it was, that was like a big, big, big deal.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. So let’s talk about Mommy at work, right? So this, other than my kind of connection I met, I knew a lot of her coworkers because I, again, I would call and they knew who I was and they would say how proud they were of the things that I was doing.
So I knew that she talked about me a lot, and then I learned a lot from them after she died. But Mommy would tell me also about the things that were happening at work and I don’t know how deeply I, I should say, she didn’t really talk deeply about some of the challenges or anything like that.
But I knew she was really proud of what she, and she took a lot of pride in showing up in her job. And so I’m, how much you wanna add about that?
Peter Griffith: Yeah. So you talk about the dressing. Casual Corners was a store in, I think it was in, in the World Trade Center. And she would come home with suits
Paula Edgar: and Lerner’s and Ann Taylor Loft.
Peter Griffith: She had, she had a ton of suits and it spoke to how she wanted to show up. Okay. People saw her and they saw her, what they call dressed to the nines. She was always put together because she could always, I mean, okay, this, this, this, and she would always look fantastic. I mean, going to church on Sunday morning, it was like, wow.
I mean, she was just immaculate in the way how she, and very purposeful in the way how she put herself together and what she showed the world of who she was. A hundred percent. So in terms of the work she rose quickly in the company she was in, despite the fact she had, she didn’t have a degree.
What she did have was a brain that was incredible and she caught onto a lot of stuff that a lot of other people didn’t. And I mean at one point she was offered jobs by some of the companies that were servicing her company because she knew the system as good as some of their engineers, ’cause she was just that good. And she knew how to manipulate the system in ways that they didn’t know was possible. And like I said, they offered a job, but you can’t do that when, especially these were kind of jobs where you go someplace for six months or whatever. You can’t do that when you have a little kid.
So, you know that that avenue was open to her, but she was very proud of how far she’s come in the company. And I think she was always a little mindful of the fact that she didn’t have a degree to say this is what I have. But she was, she was something else in terms of her ability and how she did her job.
And I think that what we saw at home in terms of somebody who could manage the house and do these things, that was taken to the job. And she did, she, she managed in a really wonderful way that her people absolutely loved her and they, they cherished her because she treated them really well and in, in, and in, in fact, a lot of ’em are very, very loyal to her, because she, she treated them and gave them opportunity to grow.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. The folks who she worked with, you know, a lot of the things that they said about her, you know, subsequently after she died was about how she mentored them and she cared about them personally, not just at work.
And, you know, and I think that that kind of impact in the workplace, especially when we think about workplaces now where people don’t stay for long times or you know, or people leave because the culture is terrible. You know, they say people don’t leave places, they leave people. And until you have someone who really cares about you and your growth you know, I, I really love that work ethic that I think to your point was home and work and work. And it was sort of seamless in that way.
Peter Griffith: Yes, yes it was. Yes it was.
Paula Edgar: Okay, so, Let’s talk about work and what happened on September 11th. So at this point, just so you both know, where we were parallel in this space, Daddy you were working in, in Philadelphia. And, I was living in California. That’s another podcast for another day. So tell me, how did you find out about the attacks?
Peter Griffith: So I was at work. We were in our little cubicles and I was sorting some papers, lots of them. And I think somebody passed and said, you know, something is going on in the World Trade Center or whatever.
So I went into what we had a, a what, a TV room room with a lot of computers and a TV in the corner. And I saw that one of the buildings were burning. And I went and I told my manager, I said, you know, one of the World Trade Center buildings is burning. And I got back to my desk and I was there still doing the papers or whatever, and she called and she said that you know, that it looks like a building, looks like a, a plane hit the building next to her.
And she said she could see the fuselage and stuff down on the ground. And there was a lot of confusion and stuff. So anyhow, she said if I remember correctly, she just said, okay, I’ll talk to you later, or whatever, you know, something along those lines. So I was back at my desk and my niece called me and she said Donna’s building is burning.
I said, no, it’s the other building. And she said, no, I’m on the roof of the building that I work in ’cause she worked uptown, so she was looking downtown and she saw that both buildings were burning. So Donna called me back, no, wait a minute, I might be wrong here. She called me back and she told me that there were people, the building was burning and she could see people jumping out the building and I said, get out.
And that was the last I heard from her. I, I, obviously, I, I don’t, I don’t I don’t know how far she got before the other plane hit the building. I don’t, I don’t like to think about what possibly could have happened to her because that doesn’t help me in any way. But I just know that when they said the building fell, I knew she couldn’t make it down.
I mean, she was on the 97th floor and getting from the 97th floor, there’s no way she could have gotten anywhere close to 40th floor by the time that that plane hit. And I think it might have hit below the 97th floor. So that was it. And I just started crying. I was sitting at my desk and I was crying and I was still sorting papers.
I was kind of like in shock. You know, I was still sorting papers. And my manager and her, her manager came over and they basically got me up and, you know, told me to go home. And they got one of the other coworkers there, a guy named George, and told him to go with me. They gave him a cab slip and he drove me and he came home with me.
I mean, me and this guy was not the biggest buddy, buddy, but here he is across from me and I’m dying inside. I’m dying inside and I’m coming down 95 on in Philadelphia. And I remember going on to the Betsy Ross Bridge and there’s, there’s an oil refinery there and you can see the gas coming out of the top of the, the, the, the flame coming out, the gas.
And I remember that vividly. And I remember getting home. He asked me if I was gonna be okay and I said, yeah. And I, I I went inside and the phone rang and the person says, is Joan there? And I was like she went, she’s at work. And the person says, oh my God. It was, it was our lawyer. She, we had an appointment that night to sign our wills and I think I, I came in and I started cleaning because I was, I was in so much shock.
I mean, I was just, you know, I knew, I knew, I knew she was dead. I mean, I knew she was gone. I could just feel it. And I was, it was like, I guess the first, the, the beginning of the shock of knowing that, you know, we had just come back five days earlier from a cruise for our 20th anniversary. And she was so happy because she went with her sister and the two of them, you know, like two peas in a pod and they had a great time.
You know, her sister and her husband. And we had a great time and everything. And here we were now. And it was funny, the night before night before September the 11th, I remember it was a Monday or Tuesday she came, she, I think she was home and she got up and she put on some clothes and she went over to a friend of our’s house, a friend of ours named Ava, and she went over there and Ava told me later, it was very strange because she never did this before, but she, she was like in her bedroom on her water bed and stuff, you know, and she was just having a good time or whatever.
And she came home and, you know, we went to sleep. And I don’t remember if I was up the next morning to see her off because by then I was working in Philadelphia and I didn’t have to leave home as early as she did. So I don’t remember whether I saw her that morning or we just said, bye and kissed or what. I don’t remember any of that, but all I know is she was gone.
Paula Edgar: I just realized that this is the first time that I’ve heard the breadth of that story from you. Like I, I mean, obviously I know the pieces of it. But yeah, so on the flip side, 3000 miles away, I was in California and I, at this point I was living with an ex-boyfriend who definitely shall not be named.
And we had gotten a big screen, 60 inch TV the weekend before. So September 11th was a Tuesday, and we got that big screen TV. And so it was, you know, six-ish in the morning. And he came into the room and said the World Trade Center just got hit by.. And, and what was wild about the footage was that it wasn’t, it wasn’t at all tempered.
They were showing, you could see people jumping, like it was, it was just cameras on the buildings and the, you could hear the, the broadcasters just in shock as they were reporting. Yeah. Being, you know, like, and, and seeing these things and, and then I remember calling that, that 800 number, that same number that I had, had my and, and the lines were down.
You could not, I was able to get through to you once, and I, when I talked to you and it was brief, you were crying. And I was like, okay, I’m going to call Mommy. Like, I was just, in my mind, I was like, all right, good. Well, this sucks, but I’m sure she’s fine. Like, I was again, that shock of it all. And I kept calling and I kept calling and I kept calling and I kept calling.
And I went to work. Like I had, I was home when that happened and I was like, okay, well I’m gonna to work, da da dah. I get to work. And I remember sitting at my table, I, my, my, my cubicle like similar to what you were saying, and just doing whatever I was doing on the computer. But then I would keep calling the number, I would keep calling the number as if she was gonna answer.
And then when the towers went down, people kept coming. I mean, and I’ll give a shout out. Here for two people. For the company I worked at was Sage Software which is Sage. I didn’t have a lot of family. I didn’t have family there in California, but I had friends and they made sure they were like, go home.
Go home. And I was like, I can’t go home because at this point I was with this guy who I didn’t really like, I didn’t, I didn’t really want to be with him anymore, but I was stubborn. Anyways, it’s long story. So going home was not going to be helpful to me. So being there at work, I mean, my friends, you know, they brought me food.
Like, it was just I felt well taken care of in this horrific time. And it was, what, two weeks or something like that before I was able to travel because, you know, they stopped flight. Like you couldn’t fly. And I was not trying to be on a train across country. Because everybody was scared about everything at that point.
We didn’t know what was gonna happen next. And then, thankfully when the lines got I was able to, to call and, and speak to you and and, and Joann and obviously at that point my sister, she was 16 and in high school and so kind of our whole world flipped upside down and I don’t want to let it go without saying who that lawyer was, who you were gonna meet with because she was such an instrumental part of us being okay.
And I think really a catalyst for me thinking of even about being a lawyer. And so shout out always to Angela Titus who is one of the best estate attorneys, wonderful people who I’ve ever met and is truly the embodiment of what you call counselor as opposed to just lawyer. And, having her to be able to have us help us navigate the whole process of not just the will, but also dealing within the compensation fund and all of that process. I don’t know how we would’ve been able to, to really do it without having someone like her. In that, in that…
Peter Griffith: Let, let me, let me stop you there. Okay. I was paralyzed. I was paralyzed. I, you know, losing, losing someone who you are tied to I mean, tied to very tightly because even at year 20, we were still very much in love with each other and losing her, it was, it was like I was, I was dead. And I say that Peter died in the World Trade Center with her. I, I was just, I was just numb. I mean, I, I think I was numb for quite a long time and this is where giving you the education that you got and the values and the understanding about family and stuff like that became very important because what I could not do, and I, I couldn’t do a lot and I, I ought to admit that I was just numb. I would, I would be at meetings and I would have no idea what’s going on.
And you were instrumental in holding my hand. And I said, you know, what would I have done without you? What would I have done if I didn’t have a daughter who was able to come and say, okay Daddy, this is what’s gonna happen. Here’s what this, and the thing about it is I realized is there’s a lot of stuff that I never knew happened because people kept things from me and I, I, you know, I, I was glad that they did because I was just not capable of doing anything. I was just so numb for such a long time. And I, I, I say you say, I shout out to Angela, but my niece, Baby.
Paula Edgar: Oh, oh, oh, yes, of course. I mean, of course.
Peter Griffith: If not for her, I don’t know what would happen to me, which is why I love her so dearly because she made sure I was okay.
She held my hand for a long thing ’cause she had moved up here to stay with us I think a couple of years before. And if she was not here, I don’t know what would’ve happened. I mean, I probably would’ve scraped through, but not the way I did because she was so instrumental in making sure I was okay.
And you were great in handling the stuff, and I, I, you know, I realized that you, you, you had a lot of grief just like I did, but you, you did something with your grief. You, you turned it into activism in terms of, for our family. And I, you know, I, I don’t know how you dealt with a lot of the stuff externally, but I know that, that you threw yourself into taking care of me and making sure our family was okay.
And it was, it was a testament to, like I said, who you were, and who you would become, that you were so strong when I was so weak, you know? And I was so weak. It was a bad, bad time. But anyhow.
Paula Edgar: Yeah, we, you know, when people say that that mourning is not a straight line. Mourning takes on all, you know, now, 22 years later, I still miss my mother.
Like it’s not, it doesn’t go away. It just, it, happens in different, in different waves, et cetera. But what I remember about that time and, and, and thinking about… Baby is, what we call her, but her, but her name is Dina Codrington, and that is, that’s my cousin, his and his niece. But she’s they’re similar in age, long story.
That’s for chapter 17 of the novel. But she’s a, she’s very much someone who takes care of people. That’s one of the things that I love the most about her, that if you are sick, she will make sure that you feel better. If you are hungry, you will never be hungry when, and yeah. And she is such a special person.
And, and it’s why, and, and Mommy loved her, right? And Oh, yes. And, and, and and they loved each other. And so when I think about that time, you were, you, you know, I, you were not, when I think about Daddy, like, it, it, this, it’s kind of almost like, like you’re like this like over there kind of person who I loved, but, but very much deified.
Like, it’s kind of like, I am the epitome of Daddy’s girl. Like I, that’s, you know, we, we, we were down from, from, from the beginning. But you, but I, I know when I can’t keep moving. When I flew back, when I finally was able to fly back and again, the company I worked for, they paid for my flight.
They, like, I flew back and I remember the pilot saying for those of you who are from New York, welcome home. And I like burst into tears. And by the time I got off the plane, I was like, I’m not gonna cry anymore. I can’t cry. I’m not gonna do that. Right. But I didn’t tell you I was coming because I didn’t want you to be scared that I was gonna be in a plane.
And when I got there, you were in the hospital ’cause you had had a panic attack. And, and a really good friend of mine, James, who again, I, I had met in California, he picked me up from the airport, drove me, drove me home. And when I got home, Baby was like, he’s in the hospital. And I came to the hospital.
I remember walking into the hospital behind the curtain, and I came outta the curtain and we just both collapsed into each other crying. And although I knew what was real at that point, it was really real then. Like, it was like, oh my gosh, she’s gone. And while we understood, extended family didn’t necessarily have that same realization, right?
We had, you know, my aunts had suffered from Florida had come to New York to search for Mommy. You know, at that point there were a lot of people who, you know, were in hospital, like folks, found people and, you know, there were missing signs and all that. You know, we had our family really coalesced to support each other at that time.
But I think we both had the realization that she was gone.
Peter Griffith: Yes. Yes. I, I think I, I mean, I definitely knew, but you know, grief is an interesting thing and you, you can’t tell people how to grieve. And, you know, you went to, we went different places looking, you know, but I, I knew she, I knew she was gone.
And one of the things, you know, as you mentioned that you both, you had celebrated your 20th anniversary week before. And there’s two things that I remember about that trip. One is that I, like had I finally had like a little bit of money ’cause I had a job. And so I was like, I’m gonna do something nice for them.
Peter Griffith: Oh my God.
Paula Edgar: And so that, you know, you were on a cruise and, and I had called to get balloons and a bottle of champagne and a cake. Yes. And yeah.
Peter Griffith: And there was, there was a, a sign that says Happy anniversary in the room, we went there too. I still have that. Yeah, I still have that. That was you, you didn’t know how proud Mommy was of you. I mean, oh my God. It was like Paula! She was just you know.
Paula Edgar: It was something she would’ve done. Yes. And so I, I remember thinking about like, I’m gonna, I’m, I’m gonna do something grown…
Peter Griffith: And, and and, and as much money as she was giving you, I’m sure she was surprised. She was surprised that you had enough money to do that, but she was very happy with that.
Paula Edgar: Yes. So right before then so I had come to Jersey. I, I’d seen you both in August of that year because I’d come, I’d come from California because I was gonna go to Caribana in, in Toronto. And I’m glad I had taken the trip because I had the opportunity to spend some time with Mommy in August and we had gone shopping and it was one of the things that Mommy and I used to do where she was like, don’t tell Daddy what we did this. But she had we had gone to, oh gosh, I’m gonna forget the name of the, the, the department store. But we had opened up, she’d opened a card so we can get a discount, but we bought a bunch of clothes and I had come there essentially with like two empty suitcases and they were full by the, and actually bought a suitcase.
And, when I went to Caribana, I had all this stuff because she had bought me this stuff. And that was not the first time she had done that. And thinking about the, having that chance to, to spend time with her, just she and I before this all happened and before your anniversary was something special that I remember.
But one thing that was very different about that trip, was that you’d gone on trips before. You’d always vacationed and done stuff, but it never it was never something where she would say like, here’s other than here’s where we’re staying or, and here’s the, you know, hotel or what the flight she said she wrote, and I have this paper still, she wrote down the financial planner, Angela, the lawyer who I talked about, she wrote, she wrote all that information down on a piece of paper and gave it to me.
And, you know, reflecting back to think about like, I needed that information because you were a mess. Yeah. And I was able to act on the information she had given us and she’d given me what she had never done before. And it’s almost like the universe, right? Like the, like God, like whatever deity is there, understood that that had to happen in order for us to be, and I say okay with quotation marks because we’re still not okay, right?
Like, we’re still impacted by Mommy being gone. But that it would’ve been so much more challenging if she hadn’t. It was like that last piece of love. To say, here’s what you need to take care of this, because I’m not…
Peter Griffith: So, so lemme lemme say this to you. I, I don’t know whether it was a holdover from the first bombing of the World Trade Center or what it was, but we talked about the fact that one of us was gonna leave the other.
We talked about, we, we knew that something was gonna happen. I mean, we just feared, and I wouldn’t even say feared, we just knew it was something was gonna happen. And a couple of months before that, that’s when she went and got the lawyer and started working on the will. That’s when we had gotten the financial advisor.
It’s like all these things were being put in place. Was it just something was done? No, this is something that she said we needed to do because this was important. And she, we went to the financial advisor and then the financial advisor told us, because she makes a hell of a lot more money than you, we need to put more insurance on her.
So when she died, we had that money because she had set out to make sure that we would be okay if something happened to her. And you know, it’s kind of like I, I knew something, was it she would come home late at night by private car from New York when she worked late. And I always, I always disliked that because I find myself at the window looking out for her whenever a car passes or something like that, because I was fearful that something was gonna happen to her and I didn’t think that it was gonna be like this.
But, you know you know, God in his infinite wisdom makes decisions that we, we we, we don’t have really the right to ask why we just deal with it. I always say that if I complain about the fact that Mommy was gone as she was taken, I would be doing a disservice to the 20 years that God gave me with her, because those 20 years was so wonderful.
I mean, I had a really great life, really great. One, one child was gone never to come home. And, and, and I had one that I was working on, but that was, that was a bit challenging. You know, you start saying to yourself, I don’t think this one is ever gonna leave home. But you know, we were happy. We were so happy.
It was like, excuse me, it was, I, I, I’m not gonna say perfect, because, you know, we still had a, we still had a lot of, of, of debt from sending you off to college, but we lived well. I mean, we didn’t, we didn’t want for stuff. If we needed something, we, we got it. You know, we, we, we did well. And it was just sad that it, that was the, that was how it turned out.
But you know, like I said, I’m, I’m thankful for the 20 years and I’m thankful for what she brought to my life. One of the, one of the things I wanted to say also is that part of, part of being married, ’cause I was, I was an only child for most of my life. My father had kids. My mother had a child before, before me.
Part of my life was, I was alone, so I was very selfish. I mean, everything was Peter. And when I got married, things were rough the first year or two until I made a decision that this is what I wanted. And I gave up being Peter and became part of Peter and Donna. And when that died, and I say that because that, that that partnership died in the World Trade Center.
And then I had to find myself again. And that was difficult because you don’t realize how much you give to a relationship until, until you don’t even know what size shoe you wear. You know, you don’t know, you don’t know what you know, because you, you share, you share memories and you share information.
So she knew what size I was, all these, all these things, you know, and now I have to relearn all these things because she’s not there. You know, my, my rudder was not there because she was the CEO of this house. I was the owner, the owner of the company. So she would come to me and she would say, we doing so and so, and I would say, okay, because I knew that she was better at managing stuff than I was.
Yeah. So if she had an idea, we would talk about it and we would go with that. And I lost all of that. And then I had to try to build my life back. I mean, it was like, like starting to walk, you know, starting to, you know, walk in on, on, on on your knees before you can get up and try to just be, and I made lots of mistakes and I, you know, I don’t, I don’t regret the mistakes I made because they’re, they’re part and parcel of who I am right now.
But I am like that person, but I’m not that person. And a lot of that, a lot of the stuff, the, and talk about crying, I mean, you know, you hear people talk about wailing and I, the crying that the amount of crying that I did would hurt my head. I mean, ’cause I cried, so I couldn’t believe that she was gone. I mean, I knew she was gone, but the pain of it, you know, just, and then there was the memorial. Yeah. You know, we decided that we needed to have a memorial. This was like in October.
Yeah. Because there was, there was no thought of her being found in a hospital someplace or someplace else. So we needed to have some closure on, on the, the, the, the the agony that we were going through. So we set up a memorial and it was in the church. I used to go to Second Baptist Church of Morristown.
And it was amazing. Sonia held my hand as we walked in. My Sonia, that’s, that’s one of my cousins and the place was filled with coworkers and it just filled, the church was filled with people to the point where there were people in the in the choir lofts.
Paula Edgar: There was overflow, people were outside.
Peter Griffith: Yes. There were, there were like the CEO of my division. I mean, there was a lot of people in, it was just an amazing showing of people. And people came from all over because she was very loved. And it was, I mean, we have it on tape, but the sound is very bad. Yeah. There’s almost no sound. And I really wish that there was some way to be able to get that sound back, but I can all, I can, I can remember you singing just a spoonful of sugar could make the medicine go down.
Yeah. You know, you don’t know how proud I am of you. You don’t know. I, you know, it’s like I, there was a part I was looking at the other day. You holding Vicki’s hand as she went up to read? I mean, the memories, you know?
Paula Edgar: Yeah. I remember that day. I remember leading up to that day. Because I had to, I had to really be who she trained me to be.
Yeah. In those times, because I, I had to lead and, and the one thing that is hard about being a leader, and I, I have to, I, I feel like I’ve always been a leader but to be a leader in a space that I wasn’t prepared to lead for, or I shouldn’t say that because I was prepared for it. I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to.
Yes. It was us going to figure, pick out the flowers at the florist and, and us and you saying you have to get sunflowers. And I was, and I remember sitting there being like, I don’t know what flowers she would want. Like, like Daddy has to know what flowers she wants because I don’t know what flowers she would want and.
And little things. And I remember, I’m kind of jumping around a little bit, but months after 9/11 might have been a year they found her purse they found my mother’s purse and we had to go into lower Manhattan. Oh my gosh. The One Police Plaza.
Peter Griffith: No, but the municipal building.
Paula Edgar: Whatever. I remember going downstairs to yes. Through the, yes. It was by, by the by. Okay. Yes, I know what you’re talking about. But we had to go downstairs and it was like this, like, it was like we were in a movie like this dank place. We had to go through this window and to give like this number ’cause every victim of 9/11 had a number. And then they gave us a purse and it was water logged.
Peter Griffith: Right. But wait a minute before that. Yeah. So we get there and they don’t want to give it to us because some, something they had. And I’m like, oh my God, I can’t, I can’t do. And I started having a breakdown right there, and the guy gave us the, you know, the guy gave us the purse. And anyhow, you go ahead.
Paula Edgar: Yeah, no, I, I forgot about that part, but I also remembered it wasn’t just your breakdown ’cause I remembered, I was like, you don’t really want us to have to come back here. Like, I, I, I turned, I was like, you’re not gonna do this. But it was one of the times when I remember feeling like, I hate that she has been minimized to just being a number. I hate that we have to go through the bureaucracy of, of the, of her being a victim as opposed to me being like, are you kidding me? This is my mother. Gimme her purse. Anyway, we get the purse and it’s waterlogged and then we, you know, we took it home and we went through it.
And she had your high school ring in the purse. I just remember thinking she had your high school ring, like, like she loved you. You know, like, like it’s one thing to know it. Right. And it’s another thing to have like reminders Of just how much she loved us all. Yes, yes. And you know, people throughout these years have asked a lot of times like, you know, did they find her?
And, you know, and, and yes, we were able to have a, a, another memorial because you know, they, they found remains. But I never, in all of that time, people would be like, oh, is it hard for you to go down there? I never thought of her being there. It was right. Like when I go down to the memorial, I love, I think it’s a, I mean, because I studied museum anthropology, I think it’s a beautiful memorial. They did a fantastic job of capturing the, the, the, the, you know, imprints of the building with, you know, and anybody who hasn’t been there. I really do think that folks should go there. It is I think one of the best memorials that has, that has been done, but I don’t think of my mother as being there.
Peter Griffith: Yes, yes. You, you know, so I’ve come into Manhattan through the tunnel, and when you’re coming up one of the streets. And I remember one day I looked up and I was, I was shocked because the building wasn’t there because usually you can’t see past because, and I was like, and like you said, I don’t, I don’t see, I don’t think about her as being there. And I, I don’t know why, but it’s just like, it doesn’t affect me like that because this is, I mean, okay, it’s very nice and everything, but Mommy’s not here. Mommy is not here. Mommy is here. And it’s like you, I, I guess it’s, it’s the relationship that we have with her and it’s like, Mommy is always here, you know, so she’s not there.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Peter Griffith: And I mean it. It’s such a, it was, it is very nice to see all that, but I, I really don’t care about that stuff. That stuff means absolutely nothing to me. So I could go down there and see her name and it’s like, but I mean, it’s like like one day I went down there and I went with a friend of mine and she took a candle and stuff to like, it’s like, what, you know, this is, this is not what Peter does.
This is not how we are. I am looking at this place as a historical thing. I’m not looking at this as a burial ground for my wife. Yeah. So for me it’s like, okay, you know, I can go there and I can go there and, and walk around it and you know, like not a big deal. It is so funny too, because there’s a place that I go to, to take pictures of birds and as I’m coming back from there, I think it’s Absecon or something, is the name of the place. They have a piece of metal from the World Trade Center, big piece of bent metal as a memorial, you know, and I see this and it’s like, yeah, okay you know, like, okay. Yeah.
Paula Edgar: I mean it’s the interesting piece about having lost a family member in the World Trade Center is that it is not as if, you know, she was hit by a car, right?
Yeah. That we have our personal connection to her and having lost her, but it is a very public oh my gosh. And shared experience Oh my gosh. That we experienced not as just having lost our mother, our wife, our family member, but also as Americans, right. As New Yorkers as, as we, on multiple levels, we experienced grief and, and, and that I think was in the hardest piece for me is like, it’s not a private thing that we can just manage on our own.
People are, were always in it with us. And it was very frustrating to have to show up for other people in that space.
Peter Griffith: So one of the things that the public grieving, and, I mean, I went back to work and I spent many days at my desk crying because the grief doesn’t just hit you and move it comes at you.
I went to Best Buy one time and I was watching, they had football games on the, on the thing, and I started looking at it and I started crying. You know, you don’t know when the tears are gonna start coming. You don’t know when the overwhelming feeling is gonna be on you. I would after she died, I would go outside for a walk and I would walk like maybe two houses down and walk back crying, just crying up and down the street because I couldn’t just sit down in the house anymore and cry.
And people in the neighborhood, they knew what had happened to me, and there was nothing they could do. I mean, there were people who, you know, there was this guy at work who came to me one time and he says, you know, he said, you know, if you ever want to talk or go to lunch or something, you know, and I was, I was very taken aback where I was like, why do you wanna take me out to lunch?
I, I don’t know. I don’t really know you. But years later, I could appreciate the fact that he just wanted to be, he wanted to, to help me get through the stuff that I went through and it was so incredibly public. Everybody knew, everybody on the job knew what had happened. Yeah. So they would see me and I could see it.
And I wrote about this in something that I, I, I wrote a long time ago. It’s like everybody is thankful it’s not them, you know? And, and I don’t ask myself, why me? Because a better question is why not me? You know, why not my wife? And I know everybody is saying, you know, I feel sorry for him, but damn, you know, thank God it’s not my wife or my husband or whatever.
And I have to deal with that. I have to deal with people trying to be nice to me when I really don’t want people to be nice I don’t want you to touch me. I don’t want anything. I just want to be, I remember in church sitting down and this lady put her hand on me and I could just hear Donna saying, just, just, just let her put her hand on you and just, you know, because I was to the point where it was like, you know what? I could feel the calm come over. It’s like, I know exactly what she would say to me, so let me just, because everybody was so awfully, the people at the church were unbelievable. You know, they just wanted to be there for me to make sure I was okay.
It was just a, it was just incredible. One, one little anecdote, Joann Joann’s school she was going to a Christian school and the principal and his wife came over and we were there and, you know, they met you or whatever, and the principal said, you look so much like your mother to you.
You know, the thing is, it’s like people don’t know what to say or, you know, and you just, you know, we laughed about it afterwards, but it was like, yeah. People are so, I mean, it was such a time in this country where we’ve never seen a time like that. And I think things have gotten considerably worse since then.
But everybody was focused on healing the people who were hurt and that was, it was wonderful. It was also painful to have people know that you are hurting.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. I, you know, and listening to what you were just saying about people pitying right. And feeling sad. Sorry for you. I specifically pushed back against that, like, you know, to your point about like how lucky we were to have her for that amount of time. I never felt like, yes, it sucked that, that she was gone. Right. Like that, that is indisputable. Yeah. But I, in my mind, I’m like, you could have a hundred years with somebody else and never be the quality, the value, the love that we had in the 20 years we had. So when people say like, they were like, you know, I’m so sorry. I kind of like bristled. ’cause I was like, yes, I I honor the fact that you were trying to connect. Right. But that don’t feel sorry for me because I had the most amazing mother.
Peter Griffith: Yes, yes. You’ll never, you know, you’ll never know the kind of love that we had. So, and I mean, I, I, I tell people this, it’s like, you, you just don’t understand.
And I, you know, people talk about Mommy and I don’t get to talk about her a lot now obviously because it’s over 20 years and a lot of people don’t ask me about her. But, when I tell people about her, I had to be very careful because I started to hear myself and I was like, wait a minute, am I talking about a real person here?
Because if you hear people talk about her, and it’s like, who, who was this lady? You know, who was this lady? I mean, she was just incredible. And you don’t know whether they actually believe you or they think well, you know, they just, they just full of it because their mother’s gone and they’re trying to, you know, but she was just an incredible human being.
Paula Edgar: Whether, whether or not they, believe it or not, it, Mommy was everything. Last year when I, I read names at the, at the September 11th memorial at Ground Zero. And I wore a shirt that said my mom, my mom was everything. And, and, I remember talking to somebody after I, I got off of the dais and, and she was like, oh, you know, that’s such a beautiful shirt.
And I was like, you have no, I, this is like, I love, I love a statement t-shirt, like I wear statement t-shirts all the time. But it was like, you cannot understand how fantastic she was. And I’m sure people say that about their mother and I, and it’s true, right? It’s, it’s everybody’s true. But she this, I’ve never heard anybody say a bad word about her.
And again, again, truly no one’s probably gonna say a bad thing about her to me. But in that sense, still, in all of the different circles and spheres that she was in, people only said just how wonderful she was. And, and so one of the reasons why I wanted to have this conversation with you and one of the reasons why it’s been so, so I’ve taken it upon as like my sort of like, keeping her legacy alive is something that is very, very important to me.
Yeah. And, and for all of you who are listening there is a page on my website paulaedgar.com and it says, you know, would you go to About Me, there’s a place that it talks about my mother, Joan Donna Griffith, and I encourage you all to go there to learn more about who she was. But this conversation is gonna give you more than that page will, and it’s really why I wanted to have it because you are hearing her impact.
And I have a question here about her legacy, but I’m like, I don’t have to ask that question because you are hearing her legacy. Yes. You know, and in, in her spouse, in her children, in her grandchildren, in her extended family.
Peter Griffith: Oh, yes. Oh yes. You, you talk about the, the nieces and, and nephews. I mean, it’s a big, her legacy is in each and every one of them.
You know, she was just incredible. Yeah. There’s still a huge hole in this family that can never be filled. But I must tell you that the position that you are in as being one of the leaders of this family being my consigliere you know, this is the reason why you, you, you educate your kids and you, you pour into them.
This is the reason why my mother was a maid, you know, so that I could be so that you could be so that TJ could be so that Austin could be so that Joann could be so that Cayden could be. So that, so that there’s a foundation. So when you, when you step on stage, you are not going alone because Mommy is there with you.
My mother’s there with you, grandpa’s there with you, your old buddy from the White Castle days, you know, the, the, the people who, the people who would are going to remain nameless in, in my family, those people are all there. And the future, the future is bright because of Mommy. You know, the future is bright, because of the love that we shared, and when I say shared, we, and I’m just including this, we went on vacations and took two other kids with us.
We, and you know, Leigh, and Vicki always went on vacation with us because that was who she was. She wanted, she wanted the people to experience things that she did. And I think it was all for the good.
Paula Edgar: Yes. I often when I’m speaking to audiences, is I will share something that she said to me a few times, which was, I had the choice, you could be the wind or you could be the leaf. And, and that was, you know, how are you gonna shape where you’re gonna be? And she was such an important part of who I am. And I always tell people, I’m like, if you know me, you know her because so much of who I am is because of, of who she was.
And to kind of pull the circle and close it in taking my child to college at Spelman, yay. They had a closing ceremony where you are supposed to give your kids to the school and, and trust and trust them. And it was something that the priest or the pastor who was speaking, she said, she said, that this is, this moment is something your ancestors have dreamed of. And I burst into tears because I think of all the people you just mentioned, but I specifically thought about this child who I named after myself and my mother. She’s a culmination of who we were and what we poured into. And so you all know who my mother was because you have heard about the story and the things that, and how she added value.
But you will continue to know who she was because we will continue to pour the values and the lessons and the fun that she made sure to prioritize into subsequent generations. Yes. And they will watch this and they will listen and, and they will hear and and know about these things because it is important to remember that the victims in September 11th were not numbers. They were not, it was not a fraction. One out of 3000. Yeah. Yeah. People and in particular, and I could not be me without speaking to the fact that, not just that they were people, but that raising up the fact that they were Black people in those that were victims and they were Black executives who were also killed like my mother.
And, and it’s important to know that that, that they existed and who they were and that they were not just a number. When we think about it on that day, it’s not just a day off or a day of service, it’s a day of remembering exactly what the world lost, but what also what the world had. And so, Daddy, I am, I’m so happy that we had a chance to have this conversation.
And you know that I always say that I’m a chip off the old block. And I love you very much and I’m so happy that we were able to talk about Mommy. And for all of you who are listening, remember to go and look on the website to learn a little bit more about Mommy to share this with other people who you think would be helpful to to hear about her and her legacy and her impact.
And that’s all. Thank you so much everybody. Bye.
Peter Griffith: Love you.