Changing Planet

9/11: Remembering Ann and Joe

This tribute to our fallen National Geographic colleagues Ann Judge and Joe Ferguson is republished on the 15th anniversary of their death in the plane that was flown into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. It was written for the tenth anniversary of that dark day, but the memories of them and our grief at their loss remains unchanged.

Ann Judge and Joe Ferguson

For most Americans, this September 11—like the 14 before it—will prompt recollections of the shock, the horror, and the grief we experienced more than a decade ago, of all we lost on that grim morning. It will also be a day to reflect on the moments of courage and unity, on the worldwide outpouring of sympathy that put a silver lining on the clouds rising over Manhattan, Arlington, and a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

As millions pause to mourn and celebrate those who didn’t come home on 9/11, we at National Geographic will remember staff colleagues Ann Judge and Joe Ferguson, and the teachers and children who traveled with them.

Ann Judge in Belize
Ann Judge in Belize

Ann directed the Society’s travel office, leading a team that got our photographers, videographers, and writers into some of the most inaccessible places on the planet. Everyone at National Geographic knew Ann. Nearly everyone owed her a debt of gratitude for finessing some impossible connection, finding a room in some sold-out destination, or producing a car—or a boat, or a helicopter—in the midst of a crisis that stranded others who were not fortunate enough to have Ann looking out for them. We all knew her boundless energy, the smile that never left her face, and the warmth that made all who knew her feel as if they were her very best friends in the entire world.

Joe Ferguson With Teachers
Joe Ferguson with teachers in Washington, D.C.

As a director of the Society’s Geography Education Program, Joe Ferguson worked with a nationwide network of educators. He developed programs and led workshops, inspiring a generation of K-12 classroom educators to teach our kids more about the world. A born extrovert with a wry wit and a Mississippi accent that he used to charm, Joe was a natural in front of a crowd. When there was a party to celebrate a job well done—and with Joe, there was always a party—he was the first on the dance floor and the last to leave.

The morning of September 11, 2001, Ann and Joe were aboard American Airlines flight 77, bound for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration-managed Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the California coast. With them were three standout Washington, D.C., teachers—James Debeunere, Sarah Clark, and Hilda Taylor—and three of their star sixth-grade students—Rodney Dickens, Asia Cottom, and Bernard Brown. They had been selected by the District’s Geographic Alliance to participate with oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle in a research project titled the Sustainable Seas Expeditions. Their fieldwork during the trip would have included swimming, hiking, and kayaking with marine sanctuary biologists, observing and learning firsthand about life under and around the seas. Instead, they perished together when their hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon.

Several days later, the Society’s staff and a multitude of regular contributors and friends gathered in the ballroom of the Mayflower Hotel across the street from our D.C. headquarters to remember Ann and Joe. A parade of images—many by the National Geographic photographers who had spent so much time with the pair—brought home with heart-wrenching vividness how much we had lost in losing them, and how fortunate we were to have had them in our lives.

Ann and Joe were the sorts of individuals who could have done anything. They chose to devote themselves to sharing the world with others, encouraging people to understand the planet and one another—inspiring people to care about the planet, as our mission statement puts it, and giving them the tools to transform that care into action.

It is no exaggeration to say that Ann and Joe died trying to make a world in which the September 11 attacks would not have happened. The best tribute we can offer them—and the teachers, the students, and all the others who died with them—is to continue doing all we do with that goal in mind.

The Society created a fund in Ann and Joe’s honor to insure that youngsters will continue to have access to field trips and other educational opportunities. Their work lives on through these efforts. The fund raised more than $1,000,000, including a major matching gift  from National Geographic, a contribution from the National Geographic Education Foundation, and donations from a number of private contributors. Make your own gift to National Geographic’s Ferguson/Judge Fund to support geographic literacy and youth education programs.

National Geographic: Remembering 9/11

Team From National Geographic Killed in Pentagon Plane Crash

Sea Mountains Named for National Geographic Staffers Killed on 9/11

Update on Fund Honoring Geographic 9/11 Victims


  • stuart Pimm

    Thanks for posting this, Ford. Ann was at the lunch for the Committee for Research and Exploration, just the day before. Bright and enthusiastic, she was one of many who made being on that committee so much fun, so rewarding. She was so excited about this new adventure — mentoring young people is what NGS does so well. With so many others, I miss her keenly.

  • Marcel Broekzitter

    After 10 years, you’re the heroes. We have a week after 10 years, on dutch tv. I’ll never forget all of you. R.I.P. We will always remember you. Sorry if my englisch is not so good, but all the best for the future. We are the strongest!!! See you in the near future heroes…….

  • Tom Valentine

    Jjoe and Winston would visit me on my patio daily on their walk around the block. It was something my dog Princess and I looked forward to. I have been long gone from DC but the joy of seeing Joe and Winston stay with me to this day. I am grateful for that bit of time and joy Joe shared with me.

  • Steve Snyder

    Thank you for your moving tribute regarding Ann and Joe.
    Joe and I were best friends and there are no words to express how much I miss him to this day. My life changed with his death and the events of 9/11, and will never be the same again. It seems like 100 years ago, yet also like it was yesterday. Joe loved life and left behind so many whose lives were blessed with his warmth and friendhip. I will forever be honored to be one of them. As Joe would always say, “Love You!” And I do, Joe!

  • Marjorie rose

    I came upon this post from a google search about remembering 9/11. I have been struggling with a finding a way to mark and remember that day that changed our world-especially for our kids. Your description of Anne and Joe and the teachers and kids who perished helped to make it real. I wish I had known them. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Megan Baker

    Thank you for this moving tribute, Ford. I remember learning so much from Joe at a Summer Institute, and working with Ann to make sure my partner and I got back and forth from Washington with our extra stays and hotel complications. They were both kind and wonderful people, and exemplified the amazing spirit of NG and geographic education.

  • kerwin

    As you take time to reflect on those horrible memories from 9/11 also take time to reflect on the strength and unity that our great country gained as a result of it. Our resolve showed the terrorists that we are force to be reckoned with and will prevail!!! When you encounter a firefighter, a police officer or a member of the military take a minute to say thank you not just on 9/11 but every day. GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!

  • Mike Wright

    Still remember Ann as if it were yesterday. I was a student at Theodore Roosevelt and worked in the Travel office on my half a day schedule. Ann and Joe were very kind and giving people and i appreciate and miss all the advice they used to give me. No matter what was going on Ann always had a smile and if something was wrong with you they always found a way to cheer you up. I will always treasure my relationship with both and miss them dearly…..

  • Cherie Vela

    11 years and it hurts just as much. Ann was a great lady, and we spent many hours “smokin outside” and laughing.
    I think Joe is in my mind at least once every day, maybe more. We had many long talks on so many bus rides. My heart continues to break even tho I know the two of them are looking down on us waiting to see how we will continue their good work, and celebration of lives well lived. love sure-ree

  • Brad Bodie

    Many were lost that day on 9/11, and we each hold special memories of that day. I remember trying to find out more, and I discovered a list of passengers on the hijacked plane that was crashed into the Pentagon. Among the names on that list I discovered three school teachers – unusual, i thought – and then three students. Why were they there? Then I discovered two more names – members of the National Geographic Society. I had found the link between them all. These were exceptional students and volunteer teachers and escorts for a special educational program sponsored by National Geographic. It as a special day for them all – cut short and destroyed by a terrorist act. I will never forget the terrorist acts commited on that day, or all the innocent victims who were lost. But for me, not personally knowing any of those people, I will always remember the special story of those special, exceptional students and teachers, and their National Geographic escorts, who died that day at the hands of those terrorists.

  • […] James Debeunere, Sarah Clark, and Hilda Taylor, as well as two National Geographic employees, Ann Judge and Joe Ferguson. The three children, who came from some of the poorest and most troubled parts of DC, had won a […]

  • Tamika Myers Starr

    Hello. I think about Ms. Ann all the time. She was my manager when I was an intern at the National Geographic Society. I think about her every September and remember how dedicated she was at NGS and her love for children. Thank you for sharing this information and remembering such an inspiring woman. She also was one of my references when I looked for new job opptys.In closing just want you to know that I went to NYC’s 9/11 memorial just to see her name and another friend’s name that I lost that day. God bless you all and Rest in Heaven Ann.

  • Benjamin Eiford

    While each anniversary of September 11th reminds me of the two friends we lost that tragic morning, I was reminded once again this evening of the impact Ann and Joe had on my life. As a member of team Marco Polo 1993, the program opened doors for a young man from South Georgia that I may hot not experienced until much later in life. I witnessed Ann, probably one of the most skilled travel professionals on the globe, seamlessly execute our voyage and deflect any objection in our way. Nobody messed with her “kids.”

    For me, Joe was a subtle, yet extraordinary influence in my life. He embraced who he was without abandoning his own principles. Always proud, confident, and generous. It is actually a postcard he sent me from the flight home that I am reading as I write this. I so wish I could pick up the phone or jot him a quick note to let him know how he impacted my life.

    In the end, their legacy continues through us. God bless Ann and Joe.

  • Steve Snyder

    Thank you for continuing to remember all that Joe and Ann were, in countless ways to so many at NGS and outside to their friends and loved ones. Joe was my closest and best friend, and fifteen years later, he still holds a reserved spot in my heart as such. To everyone that was touched by their lives, consider it a blessing to treasure forever!

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