Albert Gunnis Joseph
I never met him. The photo I have seen of him shows a white-haired, elderly grandfather of
great dignity wearing glasses. He has a look of kindness in his eyes that only comes with age.
Yet, his story has stayed with me ever since I heard it in a small New York tavern called SoFo,
that was not in the safest neighborhood.
Tossing back free blue drinks that the bartender put in front of us, I sat between a gentleman
that the female bartender informed me with a finger to the nose was a made-man in the mafia and
a Wall Street bigwig. At the end of darkened bar sat a Vietnam vet whose face and body showed
the scars of that war.
As free drink followed free drink, everyone’s tongue loosened and stories flew. It was then that
Albert Gunnis Joseph’s story popped up. The Wall Streeter had worked in the World Trade
Center for Morgan Stanley during 9/11. A few feet difference and it would have been his
window that one of the airplanes hit.
What might have saved his life was, for the first and only time in his life, he had overslept. He
emerged from the subway just as the plane hit the building and ruble and debris rained down.
After they shut down the subway, he made the long walk back to Brooklyn.
He talked about chaos of Morgan Stanley’s relocation a few days later. There was the frantic
search about the new offices for friends and co-workers. The hugs and relief at seeing friendly
faces that he worried he would never see again. Morgan Stanley had been pretty lucky. They
only lost a handful of individuals. Still, there was a bit of pain as he recalled a friend or two he
would never see again.
It was then he mentioned Albert Gunnis Joseph. He did not know Albert’s name, so he called
the elderly black gentleman “Curious George” after the monkey in the man with the yellow hat
children’s stories. That was the nickname several of the white traders and he had given Albert as
they mocked the 78-year-old maintenance man behind his back. He even got up from the bar,
stuck his lip out, recreated Albert’s shuffling walk, and laughed.
Slow and deliberate while going about his tasks, occasionally getting in the Wall Streeter’s
hurried way in the hallways, there seemed no reason that this master of the universe should have
known Albert Gunnis Joseph’s name, let alone his story. The maintenance man was just there to
serve the firm and, in this young man in his power suit’s opinion, probably should have been let
go years earlier.
He missed knowing a wonderful person. Albert Gunnis Joseph was a loving husband, father of
eight children, and grandfather of twenty-two and great-grandfather to seven, in many ways the
personification of the American dream.
Albert had come to this country from the island of Antigua in 1977 and began working for
Morgan Stanley five years later. While most other people complain about their jobs, he was
never late, did his job with pride, and always greeted everyone on the 44th floor of the World
Trade Center with a smile and a hello, even if they never bothered to learn his name. It was the
same warmth he showered on his wife and children every day.
At sixty-five, looking at retirement, his beloved wife died. Rather than sit around an empty
home by himself, he still felt strong and like he still had something to offer. So, for the next
fourteen years, he put on his uniform and continued to contribute.
He was not Curious George, but a man of strength and humanity, the kind of man most people
wish they could become, if anyone had bothered to hear his story.
Albert should not have even been at work on September 11th, having suffered a severe fall the
week before, but the thought of not doing his job outweighed the pain he was suffering, so he
went to work like normal. When the airplane hit World Trade Center 2, Albert joined the mass
of humanity moving towards the stairs. Maybe it was his age or the injury he had suffered a few
days earlier, but he began to struggle after several flights of stairs.