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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...

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.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of the world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.