In 1988 I was a Syracuse University Student spending a semester abroad in London, England. On December 21 of that year Libya bombed the Pan Am transatlantic flight 103 from London Heathrow Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport in NY, killing all 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 people on the ground in the small village of Lockerbie, Scotland. 35 of my fellow SU students died on that flight, including two of my three flat-mates, my best friend, friends and classmates I had known since freshman year.
In 2008, on the 10-year anniversary of the bombing, the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 asked me to come to Washington, D.C. and speak in front of about 300 people about what it was like to survive this deadly act of terrorism from a student’s perspective. They had often considered parents, siblings, spouses and family members, but that 10th year they wanted an SU student to speak.
This year will be 25-years since the Lockerbie bombing affected my young life forever. Growing Bolder featured my story in 2010 and that is how my journey with them began. I learned along the way that both Katy and Jackie from GB were SU grads as well. We’ve always had a special connection. Here is my Growing Bolder Interview.
My 2008 Speech
My name is Beth St. Hilaire Nelson and I was a Syracuse University student studying abroad in London.
I shared a small flat in London with Sandy Phillips, Shannon Davis and Suzanne Miazga. That year I traveled to Germany for Christmas and my fourth flat mate, Stuart Pochinski, traveled to Italy.
I had the pleasure of meeting Gary Colasanti the first week of my freshman year, he lived in my dorm. Gary was from Boston and I’d recognize that accent anywhere! I too am from the great state of Massachusetts.
In London, I attended studio art classes with Gretchen Dater and Luanne Rogers – Wendy Lincoln lived around the corner and attended British advertising classes with me.
On the flight over to London from JFK, I sat next to Steve Bolland, turns out he went to high school in New Hampshire with one of my childhood friends.
Suzanne and I went to “Per Diem” parties every month and listened to music by The Cure at the flat of Chris Jones, or “Shrub” as his friends called him. And, in the interest of a good time, we even partied with those crazy drama students at the flat of Theo Cohen.
At our SU Thanksgiving dinner, I broke bread, shared turkey with and sat next to Eric and Jason Coker. As usual, Jason made me laugh and smile in a way that helped me forget about not being home for this traditional family holiday.
Our time in London brought us all very close, very quickly. Being immersed in a foreign culture will do that to you.
My roommates and I shared a two bedroom flat because we thought it would save us money. We were wrong! In London, rent was per person. By the time we realized this we were already committed to one-another.
I met Sandy Phillips on the bus from the airport to student housing. He saw me struggle and graciously helped me with my suitcase we later named “The Green Monster.”
Shannon Davis had live on my floor in Sadler hall at SU the year before we went to London. She was quiet and sweet, easy to get along with. Being organized and a planner, Shan asked me to live with her and her friend Stuart in London so we could get a head start on the process!
I met Suzanne Miazga after orientation when all of us scattered to find flats, she was looking for roommates and said “I’ll just live with you guys!” She and I seemed to click right away, you know when you get that feeling about someone? We became fast friends. We double bunked in the girls bedroom and laid awake the last week we spent together, making plans for a Spring Break road trip in 1989.
I was 20 years old when faced with their death and my own mortality on a level that many people never experience.
Ken Dornstein wrote in his 2006 book titled The Boy Who Fell Out of The Sky “I have come to think of the impact of my brother’s death in dramatic terms: a curtain dropping on my youth, a terrible storm that left me shipwrecked, the start of a new life.”
I could not have said it better.
I want you to know that your sons and daughters, brother and sisters are with me in my heart always. I live my life to the fullest – I don’t get much sleep. I think of them when I push to try new things, go new places, meet new people, and especially when I look into the eyes of my own children.
As Suzanne was fond of saying, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” I am better for having known all of them, and you.