‘Grief never ends:’ Leah Oliver remembered 20 years after attack
Twenty years ago, Dartmouth native Leah Oliver was living her dream.
She had been working for just two months at Marsh & McLennan in the World Trade Center but already loved it.
The technical sales consultant position in the firm’s risk management software division mixed two of her passions, working with technology and interacting with people, her family recalls.
Characteristically, on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, she arrived early to her office on the 96th floor of the North Tower.
She was killed that morning, the day before her 25th birthday, when a hijacked airplane struck the World Trade Center that tragic morning 20 years ago.
For her mother, Elizabeth Rego of Dartmouth, the pain of her loss remains deep.
“Grief never ends...but it changes,” she said, sharing words that bring her comfort. “It's a passage not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness nor a lack of faith. It is the price of love."
Leah accomplished a lot in a brief life. She served in student government and played field hockey, softball and basketball at Dartmouth High School. She graduated in 1994.
Her grades were strong enough to get her accepted to Columbia University in New York City, where she graduated in 1998 with an engineering degree.
She loved life in New York, her family remembered. She enjoyed jogging, especially across the Brooklyn Bridge near her home in Brooklyn Heights. She also loved spending time with her family.
The weekend before her death, she came home for a family wedding.
Her death “deeply touched” Chris Pereira, a Dartmouth resident who serves as the chair of the town’s veterans advisory board.
A family friend of the Oliver family and high school football teammate of her brother Dale, Pereira did not know Leah personally but the events of Sept. 11 and her death were “something that stayed in the back of my mind,” he said.
Her memory came to the forefront again in 2016, when he learned he was deploying to the Middle East. He volunteered to go to Afghanistan.
While there he kept one item in his uniform at all times: A photo of Leah Oliver.
The picture served “as a reminder of her, what had happened and why I volunteered to forward deploy to Afghanistan.”
"One of the great honors of my life was to serve the American people and help avenge what happened,” he said.
While in Afghanistan, Pereira had an American flag flown on a mission in Leah’s honor and memory. When he returned from the deployment, he met with Leah’s mother to share his story and present the flag and related plaque.
“We had a great, emotional time,” he said.
Since then he and the family have stayed in touch and he hopes to accompany them to the Sept. 11 memorial in New York next year.
"I am lucky to share this connection with Leah and her family,” he said.
Leah is gone but her impact remains, he said.
“Leah continues to touch people’s lives,” he said. “Her legacy lives on and it’s a wonderful thing. Leah would be 45 on Sept. 12 and is still with us."
The Oliver family takes comfort in her memories and in words written by Henry Scott Holland.
“Call me by my old familiar name. Speak of me often in the usual way. Play, smile, think and pray for me,” the writing states.
“For I have only slipped away into the next room. Whatever we were to each other, we are still. I am but waiting for you, somewhere very near.”
The Leah E. Oliver Memorial Scholarship Fund was established after her death to provide scholarships for Dartmouth High School students. Donations may be made to the fund ℅ Dartmouth High School, 555 Bakerville Road, Dartmouth MA. 02748.