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USTouched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts

15:16  11 september  2019
15:16  11 september  2019 Source:   dispatch.com

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Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience. Touched by Canadians ' 9 / 11 kindness , Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts . Before Sept. 11, 2001, the only thing Brooks-Jones, 83, knew about Newfoundland was that the Titanic had sunk somewhere off the coast of the

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Dublin resident Shirley Brooks-Jones never planned to be in Newfoundland 18 years ago.

Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts© Kyle Robertson/Dispatch/The Columbus Dispatch/TNS Shirley Brooks-Jones of Dublin proudly displays the flag of Newfoundland, the Canadian province that showed her and other plane passengers such hospitality when they were grounded there on Sept. 11, 2001. Brooks-Jones started a scholarship fund for the province. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]

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Before Sept. 11, 2001, the only thing Brooks-Jones, 83, knew about Newfoundland was that the Titanic had sunk somewhere off the coast of the Canadian island province.

Now, she's been back 29 times.

"We bonded with those people," Brooks-Jones said of her unforeseen time in Newfoundland 18 years ago. "It was like we had known each other forever."

On that September day that shook the nation to its core, Brooks-Jones was flying back to the United States aboard Delta Flight 15 after a volunteering trip in Europe.

Her plane, traveling from Frankfurt, Germany, to Atlanta, was one of more than three dozen transatlantic flights — carrying nearly 7,000 people — to be diverted to Gander International Airport in Newfoundland after al-Qaida terrorists flew two jetliners into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon in Washington. The United States closed its airspace and grounded all but military aircraft. (Passengers of a fourth jetliner hijacked by terrorists, United 93, rebelled against their captors, and that plane crashed near Shanksville in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.)

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The grounded passengers in Newfoundland — "plane people," as they came to be known during their stay — were split among Gander and neighboring towns and villages. Brooks-Jones and hundreds of others were shuttled to Lewisporte, where they were greeted with a warmth and hospitality that she'll never forget.

Her eyes welled when she recalled the drive into the tiny fishing village, nestled among lakes and forests that reminded her of her native Vinton County. Everywhere she looked, there were flags flying half-staff. There was the Canadian flag, the Newfoundland flag and the Lewisporte flag, for starters.

"And there were our Stars and Stripes," she said. "And I'll never forget, I mean, all over that little town, there was the American flag flying at half-staff with these other flags. They were on businesses, they were on homes, all over."

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The Canadians did everything possible to make these unsought guests as comfortable and welcome as possible. The guests in turn did everything they could to minimize their footprint on the town. And when they left, they did everything they could to thank the community -- there are scholarships established

Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts
Touched by Canadians' 9/11 kindness, Dublin woman continues scholarship efforts

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The residents of Lewisporte tended to the passengers' every need for the next three days, providing cots for sleeping, fresh towels and washcloths, food and a tiny television on which the "plane people" watched in horror the news of what had happened in the U.S.

When Brooks-Jones and the rest of Flight 15 were finally able to go back to the airport to continue on to Atlanta four days later, the people of Lewisporte wouldn't accept the passengers' money for all that they'd done.

That got the passengers thinking.

"We were talking with each other, you know, we've got to do something, but what can we do?" Brooks-Jones said.

On the flight home, Brooks-Jones, a retired Ohio State University administrator and fundraiser, and a handful of other passengers took up a collection — gathering names and pledges for an endowed scholarship fund to support Lewisporte high school students. They had $15,000 in pledges by the time the plane landed.

She has seen the fund through ever since, returning to Lewisporte each year to present the scholarships. To date, the fund has given out more than $66,000 in scholarships to more than 290 Lewisporte students.

"To go and be so welcomed by just really nice folks that didn't have a lot, but were certainly willing to share, I think just made her feel that she needed to give back, and share with them anything that she could," said Angela Parsons, vice president of donor services and development at the Columbus Foundation, which oversees the fund.

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Last week, the foundation honored Brooks-Jones with its inaugural Acorn Award, applauding her generous spirit and her work surrounding the scholarship.

"She is definitely one of the most giving women that I've met," Parsons said. "She will put her heart and soul behind anything that she is really passionate about."

The stories of Brooks-Jones and the other passengers, and the people of Newfoundland, have since become the subject of the hit musical "Come From Away." The Tony Award-winning production premiered on Broadway in 2017 and continues to have performances there as well as in London, Toronto and Melbourne. It's scheduled to come to Columbus during the 2020-2021 season. The tour made a stop in Cleveland this year and will be in Cincinnati this month.

Brooks-Jones has seen the show a few times, always waving her small Newfoundland flag in the audience when the curtain falls. She has met the cast following some of the productions, and she's been invited to attend opening night in Cincinnati as part of the Consulate General of Canada's official party. And she's looking forward to the show's stop in Columbus.

In the years since 9/11, Newfoundland has reciprocated Brooks-Jones' appreciation. In 2007, officials made her an honorary member of the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador, the highest honor in the Canadian province.

Her nephew has offered to take over the work surrounding the scholarship when she's ready. But she has a few goals she's still hoping to tackle — including getting a scholarship recipient to Ohio State.

When she starts to feel tired, she's re-enegergized when she thinks of the Lewisporte students and families she's helped along the way.

"I'll love those people forever," she said. "Just forever."

jsmola@dispatch.com

@jennsmola

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