Love & Basketball: Memory of Alumnus Who Died in 9/11 Lives on Through Scholarship

Love & Basketball: Memory of Alumnus Who Died in 9/11 Lives on Through Scholarship

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The framed photo is one of Vera Murphy-Trayner’s favorites. It depicts her late husband, Patrick Sean Murphy, wearing a University of Virginia sweatshirt as he stands behind the wheel of their boat, “Nothin’ But Net,” out on the open water.

There, in one shot, are nods to four of the things Patrick loved most – fishing, family time, basketball and UVA.

Funny enough, the couple’s first marital squabble had been over Nothin’ But Net. Vera had wanted to use the money they had received from their wedding on new furniture for their studio apartment in New York City.

“I said, ‘We’re sitting on a toolbox – and you buy a boat?’” Vera said, smiling. “But we actually loved [the boat]. It was like our peace. There were no phones, no New York craziness. It was really our escape.”

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Vera met Patrick, a 1987 alumnus, through one of Patrick’s UVA fraternity brothers, Stuart Chasanoff.

A native of Holmdel, New Jersey, who attended Boston College, Vera was working at a law firm’s recruiting office when Chasanoff, a summer associate at the firm, told Vera about an amazing friend he wanted her to meet.

Vera was intrigued but didn’t want to go on a blind date all by herself.

Eventually, the three agreed to all go out together, meeting up at a place called the Caliente Cab Company near Vera’s home in the West Village.

Sitting on the patio and drinking cocktails out of mason jars, Patrick, a huge sports fan, and Vera, a former cheerleader at Boston College – she was on the sidelines for Doug Flutie’s famous “Hail Mary” pass that defeated the University of Miami in a nationally televised football game – hit it off.

“It was totally love at first sight,” Vera said. “He was so handsome, so charming. It was electric immediately.”

Vera quickly learned about Patrick’s passion for fishing – and basketball. Patrick, who lived on the west side of Manhattan, was a regular pickup player at the 92nd Street YMCA, where he had coordinated a league. Standing only 5-foot-8 and wearing a bandana when he played, Patrick was a guard whose specialty was shooting 3-pointers.

Vera came to see that basketball was as much a social endeavor for Patrick as an athletic one. Everyone seemed to know Patrick. When they went out, they constantly ran into people Patrick played with.

Patrick’s older sister, Lori-Jean Murphy, broke into a wide smile when recalling how Patrick would organize pickup games near their home in Beach Haven, New Jersey, simply by walking outside, dribbling his ball down the street in the direction of the public court and yelling for people to come play.

“And people used to follow him all the way to the court!” she said, laughing. “He had a way about him. He was really engaging and had a really big smile. He just was very likable.”

“He was just the guy who everybody wanted to know and everybody wanted to be his friend,” said Ed Cappabianca, another former fraternity brother.

One thing Vera couldn’t quite wrap her ahead around with Patrick was what seemed like an over-the-top adoration for his alma mater.

“I said, ‘This is an obsession with you,’” she said, smiling as she recalled the memory. “I said, ‘What is it about this college?’

“I loved Boston College; I had a great time … but he was … it was his whole being, his heart. It was always, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got to go.’ It was a big deal for him to bring me to UVA. He had to introduce me and show me around, prepare me and explain things.

“We walked the Lawn and walked into the Rotunda and we walked the serpentine wall and went to Monticello. He just needed to share with me all the amazing things about the University.”

***

An Albany, New York, native who had grown up in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, Patrick was a “preppy” through and through, according to Lori-Jean Murphy. Lori-Jean, who had attended Virginia Tech, said pink plaid shorts and bowties were staples of her brother’s wardrobe.

“Patrick never would have fit in at Virginia Tech – ever,” she said, smiling. “He was definitely a UVA-er.”

Cappabianca said UVA’s Alpha Delta Phi fraternity chapter (which is no longer in existence) wouldn’t have gotten off the ground had it not been for Patrick, who recruited the majority of the members. Patrick served as a resident adviser throughout his time at UVA, which made meeting potential pledges easy.

“That was a key part of who he was, because he loved mentoring folks, and he also wanted to help his parents out financially,” said Cappabianca, referring to the lower housing costs associated with being an RA.

Patrick, a computer science major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, also had a part-time job in the IT department.

When he wasn’t studying, working or helping his fledgling fraternity get off the ground, Patrick loved to sing – he was a member of the Madrigal Singers – and, of course, played lots of pickup hoops. Patrick could always be found on the courts at Slaughter Rec Center and University Hall.

Cappabianca said he admired Patrick from the moment they met.

“He was such a strong, ethical character,” he recalled. “His moral compass was inviolate. If you wanted the best right answer, he was the guy you would go to. You might not like the answer, but you would know it would be the right thing to do.

“He was never deterred from doings that he thought were right and that he enjoyed, and yet at the same time he was incredibly open and accepting and welcoming of everybody.”

Patrick could also make a mean strawberry daiquiri (family members still use his recipe), and he had a dry sense of humor that always kept everybody on their toes.

“He’d say something and you’d have to think twice to catch that he was being funny,” Lori-Jean Murphy said. “He was really funny.”

***

After just six months of dating, Vera and Patrick began making engagement plans. They got married in November 1991, honeymooned in Mexico and started building a life together.

Wanting to start a family and looking for a less expensive place to live, they moved to Millburn, New Jersey, in 1995 before saving up to purchase a summer cottage in Beach Haven, a borough in Ocean County, New Jersey, that is located on Long Beach Island and borders the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1997, Patrick and Vera welcomed a son, Sean. Two years later, their daughter, Maggie, was born.

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Patrick loved being a dad, his family members said. There was nothing he enjoyed more than spending time with the children, which was one of the reasons he accepted a job as vice president in technology at Marsh & McLennan.

“It was a nice life,” Vera said. “We were very happy and had a very nice life.”

***

Sept. 11, 2001 was the first day of preschool for Sean and Maggie. That morning, Patrick and Vera had talked about taking the kids to Old Navy to buy more school clothes that they needed.

“I said, ‘OK, I’ll see you later’ … we kissed goodbye and then he left,” Vera said.

On her way to drop the kids off, Vera heard on her car radio that something was happening – nobody was quite sure what – at the World Trade Center, where Marsh & McLennan’s technology department was located.

When Vera got to her office, she saw dozens of messages on her cellphone.

“I listened to the messages: ‘Have you heard from Patrick? What’s going on? What’s happening?’” Vera said. “I started to shake – shake, shake, shake.”

After not being able to get Patrick on the phone, Vera headed home so that she could try and sort everything out. There, she turned on the television while continuing to call Patrick.

“I knew he was on the 97th floor of the north tower, and I knew that it was above the cell tower range,” she said. “Whenever he would talk to me on his cellphone, he would have to go lower in the tower in order for it to connect.

“I kept calling him and there was no answer. It was just dead.”

Vera was quickly joined in her home by her mother and Lori-Jean.

“It was just so confusing,” Vera said. “We didn’t know what was going on – and then we saw the towers fall.”

Still, Vera believed Patrick, whom she had always compared to the television character “MacGyver” because of his craftiness, would be OK.

“I kept thinking, ‘Patrick is so smart and he’s fast,’” she said. “If there was a way out of that building, he would have found it because he just knew how to expertly solve impossible challenges.

“If there was a way out, he would have found it and would have been the one leading the charge to get everybody out. I just kept thinking, ‘It’s possible.’”

As days passed, Vera stayed hopeful. Every morning, she called all of the New York area hospitals’ emergency rooms asking if somebody with Patrick’s description had come in.

Meanwhile, a small army of friends and neighbors descended on her home, helping out however they could. Their tasks included traveling to the city to add Patrick’s name to missing person’s lists, putting fliers of Patrick up throughout Manhattan, meeting with law enforcement, providing samples of Patrick’s DNA or just bringing over home-cooked meals.

“I was so afraid to leave my house and my kids that I would dispatch my team – I called them my ‘A Team’ – to New York to do whatever I was supposed to be doing because I did not want to leave my kids,” Vera said.

After about two weeks, Vera and family members were forced to accept the reality that Patrick was gone.

A driver’s license, still in a singed plastic cover, was the only trace of Patrick ever found. His DNA was never matched.

On Sept. 29, the family held a memorial service for him.

“It was just such a blow … that you just really couldn’t comprehend it,” said Cappabianca, who attended the memorial along with many of Patrick’s fraternity brothers.

Lori-Jean Murphy had already lost another brother, Tim – an actor who had appeared on the television show “Dallas” – to AIDS in 1988. Patrick and Tim, along with their brother Tom, who would die of ALS in 2017, had all been close.

Lori-Jean Murphy said she takes solace in the fact that Patrick lived his life to the fullest every day.

“He had goals in life and dreams,” she said, “and I’d have to say that even though he died so young, I can’t think of one thing that really would have meant a whole lot to him that he didn’t do.

“He had the family, the boat, the home; he got to fish; he played basketball; he graduated from UVA; he had a great job. Every goal he established, he met – and they were really good ones that he managed to have at a really young age.

“I’m glad that I don’t think of him being disappointed someplace, that he didn’t have the opportunity to do some of the things he wanted.”

***

In the aftermath of Patrick’s death, Vera, Lori-Jean Murphy and many Millburn friends began what would become an annual basketball tournament and block party in his honor. On the court where Patrick used to play in Beach Haven is a bench in his honor. A plaque reads: “Loved His Family, His Boat & Pick-Up Basketball Games. Nothin’ But Net!”

Lori-Jean Murphy, left, and Vera Murphy-Trayner, sitting on a basketball court bench in Beach Haven, New Jersey that was dedicated in Patrick’s honor. (Contributed photo)

In 2002, Cappabianca and his fellow fraternity members dedicated another bench outside UVA’s School of Engineering to Patrick. At the ceremony, they told Vera of their idea to start a scholarship in his memory for rising third- and fourth-year students who had been affected by 9/11.

“I thought it was perfect,” Vera said. “He loved – loved – the University.”

With the help of the UVA Alumni Association, the first scholarship was awarded to Samantha Silverberg during the 2004-05 academic year.

A native of Queens, New York, Silverberg was attending Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center, on the morning of 9/11. She prefers not to recount details of that day.

At UVA, Silverberg was a foreign affairs major. She received the scholarship, for $1,000, when she was a third-year student, and used it to help take a leave of absence for an internship at the American embassy in London.

“It was not a huge sum of money, but it was definitely meaningful in a symbolic way,” said Silverberg, who now works as staff lead for infrastructure and transportation on the White House’s National Economic Council. “It was definitely an honor to be a recipient.”

A bench inside the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Thornton Hall was also dedicated to Murphy. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

The scholarship’s payout has increased to $9,000 per year since then. In all, 24 total scholarships totaling $93,000 have been awarded.

Last year’s recipient was Sarah Lang, a Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, native who graduated in May.

Lang’s father, Timothy, is a survivor of the first World Trade Center terror bombing in 1993. He was in the building’s parking garage when the bomb went off; firemen pulled him out of the debris.

Then, in 2001, when Lang was just an infant, her aunt and cousin died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Although I was young when 9/11 happened, I’ve grown up and watched my family be affected by it for most of my life and have spent a lot of years feeling the grief of it and the suffering from it,” Lang said.

Through the scholarship, Lang got to learn a lot about Patrick.

“Whether it was basketball, being in Greek life, being an RA – he was so involved in finding ways to connect to the people here,” said Lang, whose mother and father were in Charlottesville for her graduation in May. “What really stuck out and I found most inspirational was how he prioritized the people he loved above everything else, and how he built a life of loving relationships.

“That had also been something I had been taught growing up – that it’s the people who make your life and, at the end of the day, that’s what is really going to matter. Everything else is secondary to that.”

An environmental science major, Lang spent a lot of her time at UVA working with satellite algorithms to try and better understand the ocean, something Patrick – given his love for the water – would most certainly have appreciated.

“The scholarship really supported me in my dreams of being a scientist and pursuing my passion,” said Lang, who hopes to become an oceanographer.

Vera said there are so many amazing applicants for the scholarship every year that it is often hard to select a winner. On occasion, they’ve elected to split the award between two and three students.

Vera recalled the 2017-18 recipient, Nicholas D’Apuzzo, whose father had worked for the Port Authority on 9/11. When she met the recipient and his family, they presented her with a framed flag that had been flown at Ground Zero.

“It was just so amazing that they thought to do that for me,” Vera said. “I have that flag displayed in our family room.

“All the scholars we’ve picked are amazing. It’s always so hard to pick because students at UVA are so accomplished, they’re so smart and they do so much for the community. It’s always hard to choose. But there always seem to be one or two standouts.”

Given his knack for uniting people, whether it be through basketball, the fraternity or just everyday life, Cappabianca believes the scholarship has been the perfect way to honor Patrick.

“This one guy brought together so many people, and 20 years later these relationships are still lasting,” he said. “I think it says a lot.

“I don’t know how many people we touch with this [scholarship], but an awful lot of people apply every year, and in that way, even if they don’t get the award, their reading about this award brings Patrick into their consciences.”

***

Lori-Jean Murphy said there hasn’t been a day in the last 20 years where she hasn’t thought about her brother. Losing Patrick, as well as her other two brothers, and then, within the last few years, her parents, is a pain that never goes away.

“It would have been wonderful to grow old with [Patrick], but his children are wonderful to me,” she said. “His son Sean calls me all the time just to see how I’m doing or check in and see what I’m up to. They’re wonderful kids, and Vera has done a wonderful job with them.

“She stayed connected with our family and my parents. I don’t know what we would have done without staying connected to them. We were very, very lucky to have her in our life and the children still in our life.”

In 2006, Vera married Andy Trayner, whom she had met through the mother of one of her children’s friends.

“I’m incredibly lucky to have found love twice in one lifetime,” said Vera, who has since gone by Vera Murphy-Trayner. “I mean some people don’t find it once, and I found it twice.

“Andy is an amazing man, and he respects that I wanted to keep my name Murphy. It was very important for me to keep the children’s name and to keep Patrick’s name.”

Vera and the children moved to Florida, where Andy lived, after getting married, which allowed Patrick’s parents (Florida residents) to be a big part of the family. There wasn’t a holiday, birthday, soccer game or music recital that they ever missed.

In 2011, Vera’s family returned to ground zero for the first time for a 10th anniversary ceremony in which Sean read out the names of people who had died on 9/11. Five years later, Maggie did the same as part of a 15th anniversary ceremony.

Sean, now 24, is a graduate of Auburn University. Maggie, 22, is a University of Tennessee alumna.

Sean, just like Patrick, loves to fish. Maggie, who learned how to dribble a basketball from Patrick when she was 2 years old, is more of the athlete.

“Patrick lives on in them,” Vera said. “They have his mannerisms. It’s kind of scary sometimes. Sean puts his hands in his pockets like Patrick used to. Maggie has his sense of humor and many of the same facial expressions.

“I think Patrick would have been so proud of each of them.”

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