Welles Remy Crowther was 6 years old when his father handed him a red bandanna. Jefferson Crowther explained the difference between the bandanna and a handkerchief he handed his son separately: One was for show, the other was for blow, as in blowing the nose.
Wherever he went, whatever he did, Welles Crowther carried a red bandanna. He wore one under his hockey and lacrosse helmets in high school. He walked into the Rev. Richard McGowan’s freshman statistics class at Boston College wearing a red bandanna, and the priest asked him if it had anything to do with Garibaldi. It didn’t. Father McGowan smiled.
Welles played lacrosse at Boston College and wore a red bandanna and No. 19, his old high school number, every game.
Welles graduated from BC in 1999 and took a job as an equities trader, working on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It offered a great view, but Welles was looking beyond that. One day, he called his dad, saying he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life looking at a computer screen. He wanted to join the Fire Department of New York. It wasn’t such a stretch; at 16, he had become a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Nyack, New York.
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When United Flight 175 sliced through the South Tower on Sept. 11, 2001, Welles ran out of his office and became, for all intents and purposes, an FDNY firefighter. He ran downstairs and began helping people on the floors below. He covered his mouth and nose with the red bandanna and led people to safety. He carried a woman on his back, down 17 floors. Then he ran back up and talked the way he talked on the ice, on the lacrosse field, willing people to get up and help others if they could. They did what he said, and they made it out.
Welles didn’t. Six months after the towers collapsed, they found his body, huddled with the bodies of New York firefighters. They were meant to be together.
Every year, as the anniversary approaches, Alison Crowther feels the anxiety rise. “I just started to get that overwhelming feeling,” she told me Monday.
But then the thought of her son dying is overwhelmed by the way in which he died, saving others.
“Welles’s legacy is such a positive one,” she said. “It touches more and more people, every year.”
It touches people because the friends and family of Welles Crowther and his BC family insist his legacy lives on. There’s a curriculum that teaches young people about the values he embodied. There’s the Red Bandanna Run every October at BC. Tyler Jewell, one of his friends and teammates at BC, wore a red bandanna at the Olympics as a member of the US snowboard team.
When Pat McCavanagh, another friend and teammate, began coaching the BC lacrosse team some years ago, instead of retiring Welles’s number, he started handing it out to the player who best exemplifies the traits that led Welles to run back up the stairs of the South Tower.
Not long ago, the first kid who got No. 19, Alex Prostano, was profoundly moved as he looked at Welles’s name engraved in the South Pool at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. “He lives on,” Pat McCavanagh said. “Welles lives on.”
BC is playing Southern Cal in football at The Heights Saturday night. The bookies aren’t giving BC much of a chance: they’re 20-point underdogs. But every BC player will be wearing helmets and uniforms emblazoned with a red bandanna when they play USC.
Bookies factor many things into setting a line, but not red bandannas. Go BC.