Red bandanas took on special meaning at Brewster on September 11. The school community gathered in Anderson Hall to listen to guest speaker Alison Crowther, who introduced them to a young man not that much older than they are—her late son, Welles Crowther.
At age 6, Welles began carrying and wearing a red bandana after his father explained that a white handkerchief in his jacket pocket was “for show,” and the red bandana in his pocket was for blowing his nose. The bit of cloth became his signature…something he wore through childhood and as a student and athlete at Boston College. It also became the item that linked his grieving parents to his incredible legacy after he lost his life in the Twin Towers during the attacks of September 11.
Mrs. Crowther told the assembled students about how her son attended Nyack High School in Nyack, New York, where he played hockey and lacrosse with great success. He continued playing lacrosse as a Boston College Eagle, wearing jersey #19—and his red bandana. Not very long after his college graduation, Welles was working in finance at the World Trade Center. On the day of the attacks, he called his mother to let her know he was okay after the first plane hit the towers. He and so many others began evacuating, not knowing that the second plane was close behind. When that plane struck, Welles seemed to call upon an inner strength and helped at least a dozen shocked and wounded people get to a staircase and escape to the safety of waiting firefighters. Incredibly, he returned to the danger zone, climbing the stairs back to the injured, imploring them to help who they could and get themselves to safety. When the second tower collapsed, Welles was lost.
As stories emerged from survivors about “the man in the red bandana” who saved their lives, the Crowthers were able to piece together their son’s heroic final hours. Our students were moved by a mother’s telling of her son’s actions, the searing loss but the immense pride.
Mrs. Crowther spoke to how meaningful it was to be speaking to Brewster students on the anniversary of his death. “I can’t be doing anything more special than sharing his story and some lessons we can take from his example with you all,” she said. She went on to speak about the importance of leadership, bridging differences, and forgiveness.
“It was very powerful to hear Mrs. Crowther's speech,” said Liam Taylor ’24. “I had always heard about #ForWelles when I was younger at my cousin’s BC tailgates, but had never understood the full depth and meaning behind it. The courage that it took for her to speak out regarding her son on the actual day of 9/11 not only showed strength but reemphasized the message that she presented. It truly inspired me to strive each day to put my best foot forward and to represent the values that I believe in, showing strength even through the hardest challenges.”
Mrs. Crowther and her late husband Jefferson established the Welles Remy Crowther Trust to honor his memory and to spread his message of service and dedication. The mission of the Trust is to recognize and award academic and athletic excellence in young men and women who serve their communities through education, health, recreation, and character development. The Trust also supports other non-profit organizations that benefit young people through annual gifts and special awards.
In 2016, sports writer Tom Rinaldi turned Welles’ story into a New York Times Bestseller, The Red Bandanna: A Life, A Choice, A Legacy (Penguin Press). Brewster’s Librarian, Jen Dumont, was instrumental in bringing Mrs. Crowther to campus to share her son’s legacy of bravery and selflessness, having been introduced to the book by Brewster parent Chris George, who works at the book’s publisher. (Ever the librarian, she was quick to remind students before the presentation that there are copies of The Red Bandanna in the Kenison Library.) Moved by the story, Ms. Dumont has also started a Brewster team that will participate in the October 21 Welles Crowther Red Bandanna 5K that Welles’ Boston College friends began to honor his memory. “I invite you all to join me on that day. We will be virtual participants and walk/run here in Wolfeboro. I will send out registration information in the next few days,” she said, noting that she will be walking the 5K and not running it—others are welcome to do the same.
Ms. Dumont noted that Mrs. Crowther’s message, as she has traveled throughout the nation and the world to speak to young people, includes the themes of the necessity of empathy, service, and interdependence. “At Brewster Academy, we strive to embrace our core values of respect, responsibility, independence, and interdependence, and we aspire to live lives of purpose,” she said. “Welles lived and acted according to these values as well.”
Our students, who were born after the attacks of 9/11, were touched by the day’s memorial speaker and the emotion of her message. In a letter of gratitude to Mrs. Crowther, senior prefects Ellery Gnazzo ’24 and Boaz Sochaczevski ’24 thanked her for “taking time during a very important day in your life to speak to all of us at Brewster.” They shared their appreciation for Mrs. Crowther’s courage in sharing her son’s story, saying she inspired them and their classmates on a deep level.
“I was really pleased with how attentive and respectful the students were,” Ms. Dumont said. “They seemed riveted by Mrs. Crowther’s presentation and the film she shared. Many students approached her afterward, in Anderson but also in the dining hall and later on in the library, and they were so sweet. They shook her hand and thanked her kindly, and several of them expressed condolences for her loss. It was very moving to see.”
Liam Taylor shared that Welles exemplified everything that Brewster aims to be, and hearing his story “unified us as a community,” adding “Mrs. Crowther proudly represented the red bandana…having it symbolize so much strength gave all of us at Brewster something to look up to. I really appreciated her sharing her son's story and how personal and vulnerable she was with us. I hope that it had the same impact on others as it did on me."
To learn more about Welles Crowther, see the video, The Man in the Red Bandanna, narrated by Edward Burns.
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