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Remembering 9/11: His life shattered, a husband picks up the pieces

  • Blake Allison, 71, of Lyme, N.H., tends to a basil plant when picking tomatoes on Sept. 7, 2021, from the large assortment he grows in his garden. Allison's wife Anna Allison was on the plane the struck 1 World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He remarried and moved to Lyme, where he enjoys working the gardens, also a favorite activity of Anna. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Anna Allison in a photograph taken a few months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York City where Allison died. (Family photograph) Family photograph

  • Blake Allison, center, who lost his wife Anna Allison during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, receives support from Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, as Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, left, looks on during observance ceremonies in the Boston Public Garden, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2003, marking the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, Pool) AP file — Steven Senne

  • Blake Allison, 71, of Lyme, N.H. walks back to his house after looking over his tomato plants at his home on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Allison's wife Anna Allison was on the plane that struck 1 World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Columnist
Published: 9/11/2021 10:16:01 PM
Modified: 9/11/2021 10:28:38 PM

Anna Allison, who made frequent business trips to California, often set up her schedule to leave Boston’s Logan International Airport on Mondays.

But following a monthlong break from work in the summer of 2001, the software developer, who had started her own consulting company a year earlier, delayed her departure to Los Angeles for a day to prepare for upcoming client meetings.

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, Anna and her husband, Blake, left their home in Stoneham, Mass., with time to spare to catch her 7:45 a.m. flight. After parking, Blake joined his wife inside the airport.

The couple had met more than a decade earlier when she signed up for a wine appreciation class that Blake, a wine company executive, was teaching at the Cambridge (Mass.) Center for Adult Education.

But it wasn’t until she’d taken a couple of his classes that Blake asked her out. “I was slow to catch on,” he said.

The couple, who were married for 10 years, shared a love of travel, music and gardening. Still, friends joked that they weren’t totally alike. Anna had a “glass-is-half-full” upbeat personality while Blake was a “where’s-the-glass?” type.

That morning at Logan, Anna learned at check-in that only about half the plane’s seats were booked, giving her a row to herself in economy class near the rear of the Boeing 767.

After leaving Logan, Blake called his wife’s cellphone. “I wanted to let her know that I was thinking of her and hoped her meetings went well,” he said.

“Just keep me in your pocket,” she replied, which was her way of saying that they’d be together even when they were 3,000 miles apart.

At 7:59 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 left Logan with 81 passengers and 11 crew members aboard. Fifteen minutes later, five men sitting near the front of plane set in motion the deadliest terrorist strikes in U.S. history.

As they “jammed their way” into the cockpit, the terrorists stabbed two unarmed flight attendants, the federal 9/11 Commission later reported.

At 8:46 a.m., the hijackers crashed the plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killing everyone on board and hundreds of people in the skyscraper, instantly.

With his wife sitting in row 34, Blake wonders if she knew what was unfolding at the front of the plane. “I cling to the feeling that she didn’t,” he said.

Blake had just settled into his office when a co-worker said that moments earlier a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. The co-worker seemed to think the crash had occurred at Seaport Boston Hotel and World Trade Center on the city’s waterfront.

It couldn’t be Anna’s plane, Blake calculated. Her flight had left Boston an hour ago.

He turned on the radio. News stations were reporting the plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York — not Boston. On his way downstairs to a conference room with a TV, a colleague said the jetliner that crashed into the World Trade Center had been hijacked out of Boston earlier that morning.

“I knew then that Anna was gone,” he said.

She was 48.

Five days after the terrorist attacks, the first of two memorial services for Anna drew a large crowd. Nancy Itkin, who lived in Lyme, had never met Anna or Blake, but attended the service with her husband. Lewis Itkin, who worked for a wine importer, had done business with Blake over the years.

“Blake looked so isolated and alone, standing at a table, shaking people’s hands,” Nancy said in a later interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Fourteen months after Anna’s death, Nancy lost her husband to a sudden heart attack. In the Journal’s 2006 story, Blake recalled going up to Nancy after her husband’s funeral at Lyme Congregational Church.

“I know what you’re going through, and I think I can help,” he told her. “Please call me anytime.”

Over the next Christmas holiday season, Nancy invited Blake to join her and a group of friends in Lyme. When they had a chance to talk, they learned they were both fond of classical music and gardening. Neither had children with their late spouses.

Blake and Nancy were married in August 2005. A few years after moving to Lyme, Blake began playing trumpet in the town band. An avid birder, he later became active in the Mascoma chapter of New Hampshire Audubon.

It’s probably fair to say that more people in the Upper Valley know Blake as a bird-watcher than someone whose life was turned upside down on Sept. 11.

“I don’t talk about it much,” he said. “It’s a conversation stopper when you say, ‘My wife was killed in 9/11.’ ”

In May 2012, Blake traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to witness the arraignment of the five accused 9/11 planners before a military tribunal at a U.S. naval base.

Blake was among 10 chosen by lottery out of 250 who asked to attend the military court hearing, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In interviews with the Times, relatives of other victims who made the trip to Guantanamo made their wishes clear: The accused leaders of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people deserved the ultimate punishment.

“Death, nothing less,” said a woman whose brother, a bond trader, was killed when the first plane hit the Twin Towers.

The paper also interviewed Blake, whose opposition to the death penalty went back decades before 9/11.

“It’s not a productive or appropriate way to resolve anything,” he said. “It just perpetuates the idea of needing revenge.”

At Guantanamo, Blake and four other victims’ relatives met privately with attorneys for the accused men. It was an opportunity for victims’ families to ask questions about how the trial would proceed.

Within days of the meeting, which federal prosecutors arranged, Blake became tabloid fodder. “Husband of 9/11 victim goes to Gitmo to spare plotters from death sentence,” screamed a New York Post headline.

The story was “completely distorted,” Blake said, adding that he wasn’t the only family member of a 9/11 victim to oppose the death penalty for the accused terrorist leaders.

“It’s not that we don’t want these people brought to justice,” he told me. Forcing them to spend the rest of their lives in isolation at the federal super-maximum security prison in Colorado is sufficient, he said.

Nine years after their arraignment, it’s still unknown when the trial for the five men will begin. The trial, which is expected to last nine months or more, was scheduled to begin last January, but plans changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The trial could have been over years ago “if the government hadn’t insisted on seeking the death penalty,” Blake said. “It would have spared families the ongoing grief and the stirring up of painful memories.”

Although families of 9/11 victims have received a “tremendous outpouring of support,” he said, it’s been a “double-edged sword.”

“The average person who loses a loved one to murder doesn’t see the same level of support,” he said. “On the other hand, we’re part of an ongoing drama and pageant.

“I am now part of an event that will put me on a stage I didn’t want to be on for the rest of my life.”

When I called Blake, now 71, a couple of weeks ago to ask if we could meet, I didn’t know what he’d say. I wondered if talking about Anna’s death and the aftermath of 9/11 would be too painful.

A few days later we met up in Norwich, where we talked for more than an hour.

“I want to honor Anna’s memory by telling her story,” he told me. “I want to make sure people know what a wonderful person she was.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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