9/11 proves to be a life changer
News Report Staff
On the days leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, Niall and Kristie Campbell were on much different tracks through life.
On Sept. 7, 2001, Kristie, who was a buy-side equity trader for Fidelity, was sitting at her U-shaped desk in downtown Boston plugged into her telephone headset. She spent her workdays in front of four large computer screens, tracking the global trade market and making decisions on stocks.
On Sept. 7, 2001, Niall was being detained in London, after authorities at the airport were questioning whether he had a work visa that would allow him to enter and work in London for an extended period of time. Niall, who was a chef, had spent the year before working seasonally in London, and he had decided to return to London on a more permanent basis.
Two very different tracks … to say the least.
Kristie, an Effingham native, had found her way to Boston, where she was connected into the daily happenings on Wall Street and where she was working as a trader living the urban lifestyle.
Niall, who was raised in Maine, made his living as a chef, where from 1997 to 2000, he spent his winter months in Puerto Rico and his summers in Maine working at restaurants.
However, the unlikely pair were destined to meet and fall in love. But, it would take a national tragedy to turn the courses of their lives into a path to each other.
Kristie remembers sitting at her trading desk the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when she noticed unusual activity in the markets.
“All of a sudden, a graph just tanked,” she recalled. “Usually that meant a large company had reported unexpectedly bad earnings. But I wasn’t seeing any headlines coming across the ticker tape.”
Puzzled about the activity, Kristie called Merrill Lynch in New York, and as early reports had indicated, she was told that a small passenger plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
“I stood up and yelled to everyone in the room to turn on the televisions and to start paying attention to what was happening in New York,” said Kristie. “At that time, we thought it was a little plane that had gotten lost and somehow managed to hit the tower. No one even conceived at that point that it was an attack.”
As Kristie watched the news coverage of the plane crash that showed smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center where many of her friends worked, the second plane hit the other tower, leaving the watchers in disbelief.
“Just try to get your head around that, particularly being in the job that I was in,” said Kristie, who was in contact on a daily basis with businesses who operated out of the Trade Centers. “First of all, it was recognizing that people were dying, and people I knew were dying. Then, to realize I was sitting on what was the largest trading desk in the world in terms of volume of money.”
Squawk boxes in the office linked the Boston office directly to offices at the World Trade Center.
“They were getting real-time, play-by-play of what was happening in the building, which was obviously horrific,” said Kristie.
Realizing the potential danger, Kristie was the first in the office to announce she was leaving and was followed by her fellow co-workers.
Kristie was on the streets of Boston watching news coverage when the first tower fell.
“It was pretty awful. At that point, there was no hope,” said Kristie. “Then to wait, knowing the second tower was going to come down.”
The hours following the terrorist attack led to the City of Boston being evacuated, in fear of additional attacks.
“Everybody was in shock. There were people everywhere, but then the streets got quite while more and more people were evacuated out of the city. It was surreal to be in Downtown Boston and for no one to be there,” she said.
Less than 100 miles away in Bedford, N.H., Niall was watching the news coverage of the terrorist attacks from his hotel room.
In his possession was a cancelled airplane ticket for a flight on the morning of Sept. 11 that would have had him flying out of Boston’s Logan International Airport, with a scheduled stop in Newark, N.J., before taking him to London.
Had he decided to leave that day for London, Niall would have been in the same grouping of planes that left Logan Airport carrying terrorists who would overtake the planes used in the attacks.
The plane Niall had been scheduled to fly on was not part of the terrorist attack, and it landed safely in Newark at 8:30 a.m., just before the first plane hit the tower.
Niall had the ticket because he was planning to travel to London to make a second attempt to enter into the country to work, but after receiving advice from his lawyer, Niall decided to cancel his Sept. 11 flight and made plans to obtain a work visa that would allow him to work overseas in London.
“The night before, on Sept. 10, I contacted my lawyer and he said I was going to waste my money because they would turn me back around because my passport had been marked,” said Niall.
So when Niall turned on the television in his hotel that morning, he learned of the attacks.
“On Sept. 10, I cancelled my ticket. I still have my Sept. 11 ticket,” he added. “It’s pretty wild, which is why I held on to the ticket.”
The days following the terrorist attacks is when Kristie and Niall’s paths began to turn and start heading toward the same direction.
Before 9/11, Kristie had questioned her career as a stock trader, and the terrorist attacks caused her to, again, second guess the direction her life was going.
When she returned to work on the days following the attacks, the stock market had ground to a halt and nothing was happening.
“It was just surreal to try to get your head around it,” she recalled. “We were all in shock for a long time after that.
“It was at that point, I remember thinking that if I would have been killed at this desk, I would be really unhappy,” said Kristie. “It was at that point I decided to take a leave of absence and went to visit friends on a tiny island off the coast of Puerto Rico.”
It was the island where she would soon meet the love of her life.
For Niall, the days following the terrorist attack brought him to the realization that his plans to move to London and work as a chef were not going to happen in the near future.
Following the terrorist attacks, the offices where he could have obtained a work visa were closed in New York and Boston, with all applications being circumvented to the Los Angeles office.
“They didn’t know what was happening with the country, so no work visas were being issued,” said Niall.
With London no longer being a possibility, Niall contacted his friends, who were getting ready to open a restaurant in Puerto Rico, to let him know he would be returning to the island for the fall and winter season.
As soon as flights began leaving the United States again, Niall was on a plane to Puerto Rico.
“It was really bizarre to fly at that time,” he said. “Everybody who was on the plane was pretty on edge. It was a very uncomfortable flight the whole time.”
When Niall returned to the island, he worked as a chef for his friends — the same friends that Kristie left Boston to go and visit.
Several years earlier, Kristie and Niall had crossed paths by chance in Maine, where Kristie had traveled to attend a wedding.
Although they both admit there was a connection during that brief meeting, the two continued on their separate paths. However, when they both returned to Puerto Rico following the terrorist attacks, they met for a second time.
“The first time we met, we were literally passing through the night,” said Kristie. “It was definitely fireworks the first time, and it was fireworks the second time.”
Niall recalled getting invited to a dinner that Kristie was attending.
“I was completely enamored by her,” he said.
After reuniting after the terrorist attacks, the two started talking and quickly discovered that despite their connection, they were two very different people.
Niall recalled one of his first serious conversations with Kristie when she questioned his retirement plans and whether or not he had retirement funds set aside.
“I am basically a beach bum and chef, and Kristie starts asking me about 401Ks and future retirement plans,” said Niall with a laugh. “I told her, ‘As long as the sand is beneath my feet, the ocean continues rolling in and the sun comes up every morning, I am content as I can be.
“So, our worlds were very, very different,” he added.
Kristie remembered being warned to stay away from Niall because the match just didn’t make sense because they were too different and from two different worlds.
“Everyone told him to stay away from me, and everyone told me to stay away from him — that it was never going to happen,” said Kristie. “But, for the grace of God, we recognized it.”
Although they recognized they had a connection, they continued to fight it, which ended in a marriage proposal.
“I finally said, ‘I love you and this is hell. I am going back to the mainland,’ and he said, ‘Will you marry me?’” and I said, ‘yes,” and we never looked back,” said Kristie.
Both coming from broken homes, neither had marriage as part of their life plan.
“It was a train wreck. We were a force, and we couldn’t accept the fact that we needed to just get married and build our life together,” said Kristie. “We were both from broken homes, and marriage was something that we were not interested in.”
Looking back on the events that had to occur to bring them together, both agree that all can be attributed to fate, luck, destiny and sliding doors.
“Kristie could have remained on Wall Street, and I could have gone to London,” said Niall, who added the shock of 9/11 was the shockwave that created the opening of sliding doors.
“It was one of those moments when your life shifts so profoundly,” added Kristie.
The couple will be celebrating their 13th anniversary on Sept. 11, a date they decided to get married on because it had such a great impact on their lives.
“We questioned if it was too weird, but then we decided to because if it wasn’t for Sept. 11, then we would have never been together,” said Kristie.
Kristie and Niall decided to create their home back in the states and moved to San Francisco to start their future together. But fate, again, had another plan for the couple.
Kristie’s father was having a meeting with an Effingham businessman who was looking for a restaurant for the Effingham area, which led to Kristie receiving an email asking if the couple would be interested in starting a restaurant in Effingham.
The next thing the couple knew, they were back in Effingham and opening an unlikely restaurant in an unlikely town, The Firefly Grill.
“Things shifted again,” said Kristie of the move back.
Since moving back to Effingham, the couple have found roots in the Effingham community, where they have built their dream home and are raising their daughter, Camden, who is now 5 years old.
“We love the community, and it is the perfect place for Camden,” said Niall. “There are so many amazing people in this town who bring it to the forefront. It’s a pretty special place.”
Both, Kristie and Niall, believe fate plays a role in life, but you have to put some work into it.
“We have always believed in fate, and it gets reinforced the older we get. Fate tees it up, but you have to take action,” said Kristie.
The couple are very aware they have much to be grateful for, and they remind each other of that daily.
“The whole thing still blows my mind, but at the same time, it all just makes sense,” said Niall. “It all clicks together this way because it was supposed to.”
Kristie added, “We are so blessed, and we know we are. We have a love affair that most people just dream of.”