Community marks Sept. 11 with remembrance, kindness

Jimmy LaRoue
Contact Reporterjlarouejr@vagazette.com

Mark Wright’s commitment to Williamsburg area’s first responders by providing dinner to them on Sept. 11 is, to him, a small payback for all they do for the community.

In turn, the first responders are thankful to Wright for remembering them long after the fateful day in which nearly 3,000 people died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and in Shanksville, Penn.

For the 16th year, Wright’s Jefferson Restaurant on Richmond Road served dinner to about 70 first responders — from James City and York counties, Williamsburg and the Virginia State Police — Southern-style food topped with a deep appreciation that dates back to his days as a teenage fire department volunteer.

“A lot of people don’t realize what fire and police and emergency personnel go through to help people and lose their life over,” Wright said, “and we just have to show that we appreciate it.”

In turn, first responders were effusive in their praise and appreciation for Wright and his gesture.

“Of course, 9/11 was a huge day for all those who are old enough to remember it,” said Mike Greene of the York County Department of Fire and Life Safety. “And 16 years later, to have someone still say they appreciate all that the fire service and the police service has done to not only sacrifice on that day, but everyday. It’s just nice to see that appreciation.”

Mike Cumming, also with the York County Department of Fire and Life Safety, said the dinner shows him that people don’t forget the sacrifices of 9/11 and the sacrifices of first responders.

“He’s putting it on for us,” Cumming said, “and it shows he remembers what’s going on and what happened. … It shows a lot about him, too, as a person. He takes care of us.”

On Sept. 11, 2001, Wright was showering and getting dressed before heading into the other restaurant he owns on Richmond Road, Mama Steve’s House of Pancakes.

“Right away I told my wife, I said, ‘Daggone, someone ran into a Twin Tower,’ ” Wright said. “I said, ‘Aw, they just got thrown off, or whatever.’ But then when I saw the second plane hit, I just had chills down my back.”

At that moment, Wright felt the need to do something for Williamsburg-area first responders who put their lives at risk to serve the community.

“I really wasn’t wanting to get anything out of it,” Wright said. “(I wanted) just to show everybody that I appreciate what they’re out doing on the streets to keep this world safe, and safe for everybody.”

He made sure to greet every first responder who came into the restaurant and share a few words with each.

Williamsburg Deputy Fire Chief Larry Snyder said Wright’s gesture is indicative of the area’s businesses and residents stepping up to take care of those who take care of them.

Snyder said several groups stopped by the station Monday to bring lunch and cupcakes.

“For me, it’s awesome to see the community honor and respect the guys, and the men and women who died that day, and the challenges that we as a nation have faced,” Snyder said. “So for me, it’s just nice to see that people still are remembering. … It’s great that Mark has been able to do this, and the community has been so awesome about remembering this day and really trying to take time to thank us.”

Williamsburg Fire Department Lt. Trey Phaup says the community shows its appreciation daily, and those in the department are thankful to Wright for the dinner.

“Us in Williamsburg know him really well, and we’ve known him for a long time.” Phanup said. “It’s nice for us to be able to come here, for the other local jurisdictions to come by, and have a good home-cooked Southern meal, come together as a community and remember.”

Williamsburg’s fire department paid tribute to Sept. 11 first responders Monday by running the equivalent of 110 stories of steps — the number of stories in each of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center — on the visitor-side bleachers of the College of William and Mary’s Zable Stadium; 2,000 steps in all.

In addition to the Jefferson Restaurant dinner, Cub Scout Pack 414 held a remembrance ceremony Monday evening at the James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department in Toano.

In the morning, Colonial Williamsburg held its Sept. 11 Remembrance Ceremony, in which Richard Schumann, who portrays Patrick Henry, stepped out of character to share how Henry’s words resonated on Sept. 11 and still resonate today.

Schumann, who performed as Henry on 9/11, had debated then whether to inform his audience about what happened. He elected to tell people after his performance.

“The shock and horror of that actual day 16 years ago was so great that a lot of people really were afraid in a manner that we’re not now,” Schumann said. “And Mr. Henry’s words just seemed to give a lot of people comfort.

“And I can’t tell you how many people came up to me in the week or two after that first day that told me just that, that Mr. Henry somehow imbued them with a spirit of strength and determination, and his words came at a very necessary time in the lives of many Americans, at least of the ones who happened to come to Colonial Williamsburg.”

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342, by email at jlarouejr@vagazette.com or on Twitter @jlaroue.

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