Monday, September 11, 2006

A Life Remembered: Marion Britton

My Lord, what a morning

My Lord, what a morning!
My Lord, what a morning!
O my Lord, what a morning!
When the stars begin to fall.

You'll hear a sinner mourn,
To wake the nations underground,
Looking to my God's right hand,
When the stars begin to fall.


You'll hear a sinner pray,
To wake the nations underground,
Looking to my God's right hand,
When the stars begin to fall.


You'll hear a Christian shout,
To wake the nations underground,
Looking to my God’s right hand,
When the stars begin to fall.


You'll hear a Christian sing,
To wake the nations underground,
Looking to my God’s right hand,
When the stars begin to fall.

I volunteered to write a tribute for DCRoe honoring and memorializing the lives of those lost on September 11, 2001. For my own personal reasons, my only request to DC was to pay tribute to one of the heroes from United Flight 93. From there, I was randomly assigned Marion Ruth Britton.

Like most volunteers, I knew absolutely nothing about this person. Like all the tributes prior to 2996 - Marion was nothing more than a name on a long list. But, after researching and finding bits and pieces that gave hints to what she was really about, I soon realized that I wish I had known Marion while she was alive. Her brother was quoted in one interview as saying, "She could use stinging language and she'd let you know if she thought you were wrong. She could be bitchy - I was the brunt of it for many years, but she did it for your own good. She was kind-hearted and truthful, and you always knew where you stood."

Marion could be bitchy! Her brother, a reverend, said that! When I read those words, I laughed out loud - we were part of the same sisterhood! She at last had become more than a name on a long sad awful list.

The daughter of a New York City Police officer, Marion Ruth Britton was born on April 28, 1948. She grew up in South Ozone Park a neighborhood in southwestern Queens and on the border of Brooklyn. The neighborhoods that surrounded her no doubt added to the colorful tapestry that became Marion's personality. She graduated from John Adams High School in 1965- a year filled with hopes and dreams, goals and ambitions of a wide eyed seventeen year old. And of course wonderful music such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Supremes, and The Tempations set the soundtrack for this exciting time in Marion's life.

After working various jobs as a bookkeeper, Marion took a position with the Census Bureau as a Field Operations Assistant. Marion would trudge happily door to door asking quesions. Marion was always looking for an opportunity to tell a story and her early years working with the Census Bureau gave her plenty of material. Some of the more memorable interviewees included inmates at Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Marion's brother was quoted as saying, "One time she talked to a man who was a convicted murderer, and he could talk about murdering like someone else talked about selling groceries. He had these dead eyes in his head. Murdering was what he did for a living."

On a number of occasions, Marion would knock on a door and the person would answer the door stark naked. Again her brother said, "She figured that if that's the way they answered the door, that's the way they felt comfortable around the house, answering questions." So, Marion would conduct the questionaire taking particular care to always maintain eye contact.

On many other occasions Marion would knock on the door of a family in need. She would do the interview, but would make her way back to that home with much needed groceries or clothing in tow.

Marion was devoted to her job to the point of being a workaholic. Marion had a love/hate relationship with her job. She loved what she did, she loved the folks she worked with, but she would grow weary and sometimes frustrated with the bureacracy of working for the federal government. Marion worked long hours and weekends to get the job done. Her attention to detail, stubborness and tenacity led to several promotions and despite her frustrations, her superiors saw how valuable Marion was. She spent 21 years with the Census Bureau ending her carreer as an Assistant Regional Director for the New York Office.

On Tuesday, October 2, 2001 the Honorable Dan Miller of Florida on the House of Representatives reported: [...]"During her career with the Census Bureau, Ms. Britton earned several major honors and awards for her outstanding managerial and technical skills and innovative contritubutions. She received the Census Award of Excellence in 1988, the Bronze Medal Award, the highest honorary award granted by the Census Bureau, in 1993, and the National Partnership for Reinventing Government's "Hammer Award" in 1999 for her work on the American Community Survey."

Marion never married and it was no doubt because she was a workaholic as was told by her brother. Instead, she was devoted to her family and friends and this was expressed in how she lived her life.

When Marion found herself with free time she would scout for good restaurants. She organized breakfast gatherings for her co-workers, her friends. She would travel quite a distance to find the perfect restaurant for her dining group. Whenever she traveled away from her beloved city, she would always take a piece of New York City with her, typically New York City bagels. Marion's brother Paul said, "She wanted people to know that the best bagels came from New York and she wanted them to see what they were missing out on."

Marion's nephew as a little boy referred to her as his "fairy godmother". "On any holiday. Marion was like a bag lady, pulling out gifts that were precious and something delicious - Italian or German pastries or New York cheesecakes she'd bring along."

Marion always paid attention to the details. She was the family historian. Every night at 11 o'clock she and her friend Midge would share a phone call for their "nightly chat". She would travel to obscure punk music shops to pick up a CD for her nephew because that was what he enjoyed. She collected teddy bears and dolls. She never forgot a birthday or an anniversary. She always made sure you had food in your belly and left with a smile.

Marion was on United Flight 93. She was one of the many heroes that died while thwarting the plans of the hijackers. She and the other passengers and crew took the plane back from the hijackers and no doubt saved the lives of those on the ground.

Marion was a big, robust, wonderful woman with an even bigger heart to match. She could be sharp tongued and sarcastic and blunt and yes, she could even be bitchy. But she was generous and kind and she loved a good joke, and she loved to tell a good story and she loved to laugh.

Marion lived her life. It was a good life too.

Marion Ruth Britton
1948 - 2001

Avalon Project
Library of Congress
John Adams High School
United Flight 93 & the Passengers & Crew Who Fought Back: Among the Heroes by Jere Longman

Thank you goes out to Rob for the stroke of genius on the song selection, Wandering Author for helping me with some fact finding and Michael for understanding how important this was to me.

Finally, I'd like to thank Dale for creating and organizing this tribute. All the hours he and his friends that volunteered to keep this organized was a huge undertaking. This has been an incredible experience.

Please go read more tributes here: 2996


Jen said...

She sounds really neat, b!tchyness and all! I love it!

I Remember Anna Williams Allison

J.M. Rob said...

Bravo Cathy. Well done.

And Bravo to you, Marion Britton.

The Wandering Author said...

Thank you for writing such an excellent tribute for Marion. Since I am a genealogist myself, I was stunned to discover that a Census Bureau worker and apparent amateur genealogist had died on 9-11. I had not known that, and it made her story personal for me.

When I came here to read her tribute, I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful job you were able to do. If Marion loved telling stories, I feel sure she would be happy with the story of her life you've told here.

Lemuel Calhoon said...

You've done a very good job here. May the honor we pay to the fallen inspire us to continue the fight.

Jan said...

May she rest in peace.

Mike said...

To tell the story of someone you have never met may be the hardest thing anyone can do. You did it without help and made it look effortless, like all of this just fell into your lap. We both know how much you fretted over it and all the work it took. Wonderful job!

Angela said...

Very nice Tribute to Marion Ruth Britton. Thank you for helping me to learn more about this special woman. God Bless all the families who have loved & lost.
My Tribute is to James F. Lynch.

brian said...

Thank you for posting this tribute and sharing her life with us.

Thanks also for stopping by my tribute to Gilbert and leaving your comment.

Anonymous said...

The more I read this I began to wonder how you came to write to this story and I see at the end that you put some time into putting this together, Marion is now smiling thinking how cool Cathy is :)

Anonymous said...

An beautiful tribute, to a lady who sounds like someone we all should have known.

Cathy said...

Thank you to everyone that has stopped by. I assure you if you wrote a tribute- regardless of how long it takes me, I WILL eventually make my way to yours and I promise to leave a comment.

I can tell you this has been a powerful experience. Little did I realize back in June when I volunteered for this project how important Marion would become to me. I have found myself thinking about her everyday and in that sense I will never forget what happened on that beautiful Tuesday morning five years ago.

Rhonda Gales said...

What a great tribute. As a fellow 2996 blogger, I am visiting as many blogs as I can. I am honoring Nancy Carole Farley and Jeffrey J. Shaw. Please visit.

The Conservative UAW Guy said...

Great job, Cathy.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...


This was a very moving, very touching tribute. Thank you for introducing us to her!

Katherine said...

That was a beautifully written tribute - you made her real to us.

Anonymous said...

Such a beautiful tribute... That last sentiment is a good message to all of u.
Thank you for letting us meet Marion.

Unknown said...

I am writing this on the eve of September 11th, 2009...

I am a member of Marion's brother's church.

As someone who Lives and works in the New York City area, it's hard not to know somebody that had lost a loved one on 9/11 (my neighbor's husband was also one of the 2,993 killed).

On September 12, 2001, the church had a memorial service for all who perished, but the major question on everybody's mind was "Why is Pastor Paul not here?"... Well that question was answered in the first nano-seconds of the service. With tears running down her face, our Deacon (assistant pastor) told all the members of the church "I am sorry to tell you that Marion Britton, Pastor's Sister was one of the many who died yesterday, she was on Flight 93." That hit everyone there like a ton of bricks, there was not a dry eye there before she even finished that sentence.

Since then, Pastor Paul has given every memorial service in Shanksville, PA. He has already arrived there for tomorrow's service.

He also keeps a picture from the local newspaper in a frame on his desk, a picture of all the terrorists involved in that attack and on it is a handwritten note "May God never let us forget the events that took place on that September day. And to these men above, I forgive you."

When I saw that, I immediately started sobbing, it takes a great deal to forgive the men that killed your sister, but he did it, and if everyone in the world could do that, the world would be a much better place.

Cathy said...

Dear Keil, Thank you so much for stopping by and offering such a personal account. In the weeks preceding this tribute to Marion I tried to contact your Pastor. Unfortunately, we played a little bit of phone tag. Please let him know there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of Marion.

I hope you don't mind, but I am going to publish your comment on my newer more user friendly blog so others may read your account.

God Bless.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but wonder if Marion was a distant relative of mine somehow. If so, there is an additional tie I feel that somehow keeps me interconnected & compelled to preserving the memory of those we lost on 911. A co-worker where I worked back then (Todd Beamer)is the other "hero" ... both individuals will not be forgotten.

Mark Britton