Tim Gray vividly remembers visiting his brother Chris’ apartment in the Shades section of Weehawken a few years ago.
“Chris told me that I better get downstairs, that a kid was throwing stones at my car,” Tim recalled. “He said that you have to prove yourself in this neighborhood, so I better go downstairs and introduce myself to the kid throwing the stones. He loved living in Weehawken and loved the people in the neighborhood.”
After Chris Gray was tragically killed in the World Trade Center tragedy, Tim had to go back to his brother’s Weehawken apartment and go through his brother’s personal belongings.
“I had to go back there and clean up some things, take care of his things,” Tim said. “Each time I did, I felt more comfortable, like I was supposed to be there.”
Tim eventually moved into his brother’s place.
“I became so appreciative of the people there, people who really loved Chris,” Tim said. “They were all so incredibly generous to me. I had just signed a lease on a New York apartment prior to Sept. 11, but once I stayed in Weehawken for a while, it felt like I belonged, like it was home. I was real happy there.”
One day, Tim looked outside the back window of his apartment and noticed a sign for the new St. Lawrence Estates housing complex that was being constructed by Weehawken native and developer Tom Heagney.
“It was perfect,” Tim said. “I loved the neighborhood and the people. It’s a great community. When I saw the sign go up that they were selling homes there, I figured I had to buy. It was a perfect opportunity for me.”
So Tim, who is a corporate attorney in Manhattan, working with mergers and acquisitions, became the very first buyer to purchase a home in the St. Lawrence Estates, a 16-home complex that is now fully occupied.
“It was a good deal,” Tim said. “Tom Heagney is such an unbelievably great guy. I told him that I would send anyone I knew his way and that I would try to sell this community anyway I could. It’s a great place to be. It’s funny how it all turned out, but I’m really happy. Had I never been to Chris’ place, none of this would have ever happened.”
The 29-year-old attorney has been thoroughly embraced by the neighborhood that adored his older brother.
Chris was a former standout college football player at the University of West Virginia and a former professional athlete, having spent time with the Miami Dolphins as a backup quarterback to Dan Marino.
After moving to Weehawken seven years ago, Chris loved to spend his free time playing with the kids of the Shades. One woman fondly recalled him spending the hottest day of 2001 trying to teach her seven-year-old daughter how to play tetherball in Pizzuta Park.
In fact, one time when Chris showed off his throwing arm, tossing a football to one youngster, the youngster asked if Chris had ever played pro football. When Chris told the youngster that he had indeed played with the Miami Dolphins, the kid went around the neighborhood, telling everyone that Dan Marino had moved to Weehawken.
“That’s just the way Chris was,” Tim recalled. “He was great with kids. I love kids as well and unfortunately, I just don’t get the chance to see them enough, with all the time I spend working. But there are kids everywhere in the Shades and that’s just great.”
As the second anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy was commemorated Thursday, Tim went to the Manalapan home of his parents to spend the day with them and reflect.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Chris,” Tim said of his brother who was working for Cantor Fitzgerald at the time of the terrorist attacks. “As time goes on, that may change, but there’s so much going on in the media that makes you remember. And it should be an important day and should be remembered, not just for Chris, but the 3,000 other people who passed away that day.
Added Tim, “When you hear references to the post 9-11 world, it triggers something to so many people. Everyone lost someone they knew that day. A friend, a family member, or in my case, a brother. You run the full gamut of emotions. Of course, there’s still anger. You can reflect and analyze and try to understand better what happened. I think we know more now.”
Tim said he still feels anger when he reads or hears about the Al-Qaeda terrorists still operating in the Middle East.
“It makes you mad when you consider that half of the guys responsible for this are still running around,” Tim said. “You have anger about the way the buildings were designed, anger that no one could have prevented this. I don’t think there was anyone would could have predicted or prevented it, but sometimes, the emotions get the best of you. At times, I also want to find someone to blame. I see a lot of families going through the same feelings, having the same approach.”
Tim said that he thinks fondly of his brother and that his family has remained strong and steadfast through the tough times.
“It’s good that we have each other,” Tim said. “We talk about my brother often enough that his memory is kept alive. We talk a lot about the good times.”
Tim said that he still heads back to the Jersey shore on weekends to fit in a round of golf with his father, Jim, who was once the mayor of Manalapan.
“Playing golf with my dad is important to me,” Tim said.
He said he also makes three trips a year to West Virginia, another place that adopted Chris like he was their own. There is a Chris Gray Memorial Foundation that is alive and well at the university, raising money for scholarships through donations and fundraisers like an annual golf outing.
“The foundation is fully endowed now,” Tim said. “It’s really going strong. You see a lot of fundraising events for 9-11 victims in the New Jersey area, because we had so many people from the area who died that day. But you don’t get to see a lot of it in West Virginia. But those people there are a lot like the people in the Shades. They’ve really reached out and tried to remember Chris as the best way they can and it’s truly amazing.
Added Tim, “I go back to West Virginia because Chris’ fiancée lives there now and he has so many friends there. It’s great for me and it’s a good healing process for me to hear all the stories they have about Chris and gives me a better idea of who my brother was and what he meant to them.”
So while the second anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy came and went last Thursday, Tim felt some solace in the fact that he found a new home through the face of tragedy.
“After I bought the house it was a little funny, but my father saw it and said, ‘Chris would have bought the same place,’ ” Tim said. “I was thinking the same thing. I know Chris and his fiancée wanted to stay in the neighborhood, that he liked it so much. God knows, maybe this is what was supposed to happen.”