On Sept. 11, 2001, Ruth McCourt and her 4-year-old daughter Juliana McCourt, of New London, boarded United Flight 175 in Boston, bound for Disneyland. They were both killed when their plane was hijacked by terrorists and flown into the World Trade Center’s north tower.
Twenty years after their tragic deaths, family and friends gathered on Friday at the McCourt 9/11 Memorial Garden created in their honor on the grounds of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum to remember the mother and daughter, and all those who died with them in the attacks.
Mary Bryant McCourt, who wed Ruth McCourt’s widower David McCourt, delivered remarks for the family on Friday. She spoke on behalf of Ruth’s mother, Paula Scott Clifford, and Ruth’s brothers, who she said found speaking at the memorial service too painful this year.
The garden, a tranquil spot tucked away on the museum’s grounds, was developed by members of the New London Garden Club, the New London Police Department and the New London Fire Department and opened in 2005. Members of the police department attended Friday’s ceremony.
Samuel Quigley, director of the museum, said that the Lyman Allyn is “honored to have on our grounds this beautiful and special place for reflection and peace.”
He said he was happy that family, friends and community members could gather by the garden “to solemnly remember those who perished both near and far 20 years ago tomorrow.” He asked guests to remember Ruth, Juliana and “all of the innocent victims of that unforgettable day.”
New London Mayor Michael Passero thanked the family for the connection they have built and kept with the city of New London.
“What this garden brings is peace and healing,” said Passero.
“It will be an eternal reminder for generations to come to learn of the tragedy and also the peace that we can find in that tragedy,” he said.
Under blue skies Friday morning, an American flag that was presented to the McCourts’ relatives after the attacks hung on an ivy-covered wall near the garden, bearing the names of everyone killed on 9/11. From trees leading into the garden hung brightly colored ribbons; guests were invited to write messages of remembrance and hope on ribbons and hang them in memoriam. The memorial ribbons will be available at the museum throughout the weekend.
Ruth McCourt, who was 45 when she was killed, was born in Ireland and was a successful businesswoman in Boston before moving to New London in 1999 with her husband, David, a Waterford native who has since died of cancer. Here, she loved tending to her gardens and refurbishing her home on Pequot Avenue.
Juliana McCourt was a student at the Mitchell College Learning Center, where she was learning to dance, having also taken dance classes at the museum. Her former dance teacher, L’Ana Burton, escorted Clifford to the ceremony on Friday and said she remembered a young Juliana as “an angel.”
“She was just like an angel when she was alive, and we know she’s an angel now that she’s no longer alive with us,” Burton said.
A portion of the garden was designed in Juliana’s honor with whimsical toadstools, a stone frog and a fairy statue.
“It was made to be whimsy and fun in her memory,” said Eileen Donovan, director of learning and engagement at the museum.
Bryant McCourt said on Friday that she hopes Ruth’s passion for gardening and Juliana’s playful spirit live on as children and families enjoy the space made in their memory.
“We are hoping to continue honoring her (Ruth), Juliana and all those from Connecticut who we lost 20 years ago with the McCourt memorial garden. It’s here where children can learn and dance, we can have tea parties and fairy parties,” said Bryant McCourt.
Clifford, who is now in her late 80s and lives at Apple Rehab in Mystic, sat in the front row during the ceremony wearing a sunshine-yellow coat, smiling warmly as people spoke of her daughter’s kindness and compassion and her granddaughter’s bright spirit.
Bryan McCourt said that during a phone conversation this week, Clifford spoke of her fallen family as angels, saying “they’re in the best place now, they have their wings.”
Through tears, Bryant McCourt followed Clifford’s sentiment, saying “may we all have our wings and do our best with what we have in all situations and live in a way that is peaceful and kind and loving as we bloom in our lives to all the others around us.”