When the lined official envelopes
came in the mail, Herb Ouida wanted
little to do with the checks inside.
"It was terrible money, the worst you
could get," said Ouida, who survived
being on the 77th floor of the North
Tower in the World Trade Center the
day the planes hit in 2001. His 25-year-old
son, Todd, was on the 105th floor
that morning and did not survive.
"It was money we didn't want and
that nobody ever wants," he said of the
money the federal government and
charities paid survivors and relatives of
the 2900 people killed.
Ouida, a lawyer whose speech bears
the resonant stamp of his native Brooklyn,
and his wife, Andrea, live in River
Edge, New Jersey. Todd's brother, Jordan,
33, and sister, Amy, 34, still live nearby.
They knew instinctively as a family, the
father said, that a good amount of the
money should be used to help others.
"We didn't have a choice," he said.
"We had to give it away. We had to use
the money in such a way that Todd's
spirit would not be buried in the rubble
of the World Trade Center but would
continue to touch us and others."
They took their cue from things people
said at the memorial service as they
remembered Todd's life.
Although it was not long, Todd
Ouida's life included a dramatic
triumph over adversity, one shared by his
family. When he was nine years old and
in fourth grade, Todd developed panic
attacks so severe that he could not go to
school. If he tried to go, his pulse rose,
his skin sweated and he became ill. He
stayed home for two and a half years.
"It wasn't the ordinary "I don't feel like
it' attitude, but it was that I was scared
to go to school," Todd wrote in his moving
high school application essay to the
University of Michigan, from which he
later graduated. "My stomach was tight,
and I, for a reason that will most likely
never be explained, was terrified."
The "reason" may remain unknown.
But after medication failed, a remedy
was found: the slow healing of intensive
therapy with a skillful child psychiatrist.
Todd wrote that he "wanted so badly" to
go back to school, and he never stopped
trying, never gave up on himself. With
his therapist's and family's support, he
did go back, part-time, and by seventh
grade he returned to school full-time.
Todd's college essay expressed gratitude
that his parents recognized the
severity of his problem, took responsibility
to obtain care for him, and supported
him. "Thank God"¦ my parents
realized that this problem wasn't just
my fault or just my problem," he wrote.
The memorial service for Todd
became a recollection and celebration
of his triumph over adversity, and
it gave his family their cue. They
decided to try to help families facing
similar problems. With the help of the
Community Foundation of New Jersey,
they started a foundation to help children
and their families cope with anxiety
disorders and depression.
Since it was launched in 2001, the
Todd Ouida Children's Foundation has
provided a million dollars to support psychological
services for families in need,
primarily in the New York-New Jersey
area. The foundation also holds conferences
and supports research and training
in the field of childhood depression and
anxiety disorders. In 2002, it established
a clinical scholarship award and an
annual lecture at Todd's alma mater, the
University of Michigan, in Todd's name
with a $250,000 gift from the young
man's estate. It also continues to make a
$10,000 annual gift to the university's
center for the study of depression.
The Ouida foundation has neither
paid staff nor a formal office. Volunteers
do a lot, but much of the work is
done by Herb and Andrea Ouida at
their dining room table. "We need to connect with Todd and to tell his story,
so the foundation is really a healing
stone for us."
There was a poignant, final coda to
Todd's triumph. By 2001, Todd
had become a currency options trader at
Cantor Fitzgerald, for which his brother
also worked in London. By 2001, Herb
Ouida, who had been counsel to a transportation
authority, was executive vicepresident
of a trade group promoting
similar trade centers around the world.
Both Todd and his father worked in the
North Tower of the World Trade Center,
the father on floor 77 and the son
on floor 105.
When the building shook and caught
fire, Herb Ouida, instead of going down
the nearest stairwell, walked up to floor
78. He knew that as a so-called "sky
lobby," it had express elevators. These
turned out not to be in service, but by
going up one floor, Ouida got a better
view and saw a vast stream of people exiting
on the other side of the tower. He hastened
over there and eventually got down.
Cantor Fitzgerald was just above the
part of the tower into which the first
hijacked jet sliced. Todd could not go
down. He feared his mother would
learn of the attack and worry, so amid
the panic he called her on his cell phone. Todd reassured her that both he
and his father were OK, that help was
on the way.
But at that moment Herb Ouida was
struggling down the stairwells. He had
not been able to telephone Todd and did
not risk taking the time to call his wife.
Todd had concealed from his mother not
only his own peril but also the fact that
he actually had no word from his dad.
"This is a boy who had crippling anxiety
attacks as a child, and here, at the
moment of the maximum danger, he is
trying to protect his mother and help her
remain calm," Ouida said in an interview,
his teary eyes reflecting equal parts
pride and grief.
Herb Ouida retired in 2003 to
devote more time to the Todd
Ouida Children's Foundation. Todd's
brother, Jordan, and sister, now Amy
Morik, help with it as well.
"People often say to me, "There's
nothing worse that can happen than to
lose a child.' They mean well, but it's
uncomfortable, because I don't agree. It
would be worse to have had a child, but
never to have really known and truly
loved him, to have connected with him.
We had that gift for 25 years. We cherish
it, and we still have it today."
Although Ouida said that he felt confusion,
anger, apprehension and guilt
about receiving money for his family's
suffering, the once unwelcome money
in the lined envelopes has turned out to
be a positive.
Ouida also said the family's experience
of responding as a unit to Todd's
problems during his childhood helped
them in later responding to the calamity
of his death. "There was already a support
system and a recognition in our
family of the value of taking care of each
other," he said, "so doing the foundation
was a natural for us."
"As we go forward, we still treasure
life and try to remember our blessings
on a daily basis," he said. "And we feel
that Todd is with us, because of what
we do in his name and spirit." ■
© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved