Student follows in the footsteps of her father, a Richmond alum lost on 9/11

September 7, 2021

9/11: 20 Years After

Whitney Clark thinks about Sept. 11 every day. The Richmond junior wears a metal bracelet around her wrist, with her father’s name engraved on it: Thomas R. Clark, 9-11-01. He died in the collapse of the World Trade Center’s South Tower.

Her father, known as T.C., graduated from the University of Richmond in 1986. Whitney joined the Spider family because she wanted to follow in his footsteps.

“Being here is surreal, just knowing that he spent some of the best years of his life here, and I’m walking around the same paths that he walked on,” she said. “I feel his presence with me, especially during this time of year.”

She grew up in Summit, New Jersey — a small commuter town 23 miles from Manhattan — where many families lost loved ones on 9/11.

“When I walk around Summit, people know who I am,” Clark said. “It was nice to come to the University of Richmond because on 9/11, no one really knew. I was able to form my own identity and still connect with my dad.”

Whitney has no memory of her father, because she was just 4 months old on the day he died.

“I don’t think people understand how hard it is — they have this perception that, because I was so young, I don’t remember him, so it’s not as bad,” she said. “It’s a totally different thing mourning the loss of someone that I never got to know, specifically because the terrorists took that chance from me.”

Whitney’s mother offers her remembrances of T.C. — how he was kind and treated everyone he met with respect.

“My mom always tells me, ‘Your dad was different. He was one of those people that couldn’t be mean to anyone.’ That gives me a sense of comfort that he left the world a better place than when he found it.”

Her father was a history major and a member of Phi Delta Theta on campus. Whenever she passes by the Gumenick Quadrangle, she takes a moment to stop by the bench where her dad’s name is engraved.

“I love the benches,” she said. “It’s nice to know that he’s going to always be remembered at a place that he loved so much, especially when it feels like so many people are forgetting.”

She recently took a photo next to the bench to send to her family, and even though there was a clear blue sky, a rainbow appeared in the image.

“I truly believe that that was my dad with me in that picture,” she said.

Whitney still looks for signs from him all over campus, and said it brings her great comfort to walk the same paths and take in the same scenery as he did.

“Just knowing that he was here, and I’m here, and that I’m able to leave some small impact on his legacy is important to me,” she said. “I just wish that he was here to watch me do it.”