From The Catholic Observer, Nov. 17, 2006
By Mark E. Rondeau
WIILIAMSTOWN — Terrorists trained in and directed from Afghanistan took the life of their son on Sept. 11, 2001. Stunned
and numb at first, Sally and Don Goodrich eventually responded by building a 25-room K-through-8 school for girls in that
Peter Goodrich, 33, a products manager for a computer software company in eastern Massachusetts, was on Flight 175, the second
plane to be crashed into the World Trade Center.
“He was our oldest son. He was the center of our family, a very funny person,” said Sally Goodrich. His job “allowed
him to meet a lot of people from countries like India. He met Russian Jewish immigrants, Serbians, and he embraced them, and
he embraced their differences. And it led him to a spiritual journey where he read the Bible, he read the Koran. He was extremely
curious and open.”
The Goodriches spoke and showed slides of Afghanistan Oct. 22 to high school religious education students from Williamstown
and North Adams in the hall of St. Patrick’s Church in Williamstown. Peter Goodrich grew up in Williamstown, and his
mother is an administrator in the North Adams school system. The couple, who are not Catholic themselves, live in Bennington,
“What happens when you have a tragedy like 9-11 is that every part of your life changes,” Sally said. “In
the beginning you’re not aware of that, you’re just sort of in shock, which is a blessing and it’s hard
to feel things. But as time progresses you realize that everything that your life was before changes. It changes subtly.”
Three years after the attacks, Rush Filson, a Marine major serving in Afghanistan and a Goodrich family friend, wrote home
in a letter to his parents “about a man that had transformed his life, a teacher who was in a very dangerous village,”
The teacher had asked for school supplies. Learning about this, the Goodriches, who usually retreated to the seclusion of
a lake on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, decided instead to mark it by purchasing supplies for the teacher. Kathleen
Rafiq, a journalist and humanitarian in Afghanistan, gave Sally the idea of building a school. Rafiq, like Filson, was one
of several key people who helped make the project possible.
The Goodriches had $50,000 that had been given to them after Peter’s death. This money had formed the basis of the Peter
M. Goodrich Foundation, though at first it was unclear what the foundation would do. “We couldn’t come up with
a project that was really reflective of who Peter was. He embraced life, he was non-violent, he was generous, he was very
curious. And it was difficult to find one thing that would define Pete.”
However, in the idea of building a school, “We knew that we were finally in touch with Peter’s spirit, or essence,”
Sally said. “I just knew that Peter would be doing exactly what we were doing, that he would be curious to understand
why 9-11 happened, and his response to it would have been nonviolent, a response to increase understanding.”
The site chosen was in Logar, a conservative province in the area of the Pashtun ethnic group. “We wanted to be in
the Pashtun area,” she said. “They gave rise to the Taliban.”
At young ages boys and girls can go to school together, but once they become adolescents, they’re completely separated.
The Swiss had already built a boys’ school in the vicinity. “Therefore we were able to help the girls,”
Sally said. “And as I began to read about Afghanistan I understood the greater need for really helping girls.”
Another unexpected grace was the receipt of $83,000 from Peter’s estate, and this enabled them to proceed with the project.
They used the design that Afghanistan communities were using for schools. The school was only supposed to cost $120,000, but
a large wall necessary for both privacy and security added significantly to the cost. The school was conveyed to the Afghanistan
government in January.
Don Goodrich, an attorney, is board chairman of the group Families of Sept. 11 and worked to establish both the Victims Compensation
Fund and the 9-11 Commission. Still, he thinks the most effective thing he and his wife have done is get involved in education
“It’s at that level. It’s at the base level of people like the people in this room that the kind of change
we needed to see take place is taking place,” he said. “And for me that’s the rewarding part of it.”
One sentence in The 9/11 Commission Report both exemplifies and inspires the couple’s work: “The United States
should rebuild the scholarship, exchange, and library programs that reach out to young people and offer them knowledge and
hope.” To this end, the Goodrich Foundation is sponsoring the studies of three students from Afghanistan in the U.S.
Two of them attended the presentation at St. Patrick’s. Both in high school, one lives with Sally and Don, the other
with Peter’s brother Foster and sister-in-law Janine. The Foundation also contributes to the living expenses of 50 orphans
and their caretakers in Afghanistan.
The Goodriches hope to build another girls school in another Pashtun province. However, the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating,
and Sally said it has become much more dangerous.
“It’s important to me that we not leave Afghanistan, and I can tell you that there are remarkable, brave, courageous
human beings that struggle to survive every single day,” Sally said. “And they do it with humor, and they do it
with hospitality, and they do it with grace.”
Don said that people in Afghanistan live by an honor code and really expect people to keep their promises. In the year and
a half after Sept. 11, the U.S. made a great many promises to bolster both institutions and infrastructure.
“We were going to give them opportunities to make their lives better, and we didn’t do it as effectively as we
should have,” he said. “Had we done that, I think what we’re seeing today as a shift towards a more fragile
situation in Afghanistan could have been avoided.”
Fr. William Cyr, pastor of the Catholic parishes in North Adams, asked Sally if Peter’s spirit led her to the project
and the sense of peace she had spoken about during the presentation.
“I honestly had a big fight with God, as you can well imagine, and lost my faith and lost my trust,” she said.
The first part of healing was “the gift of other people’s trust and faith in us and their expression of trust.
And I thoroughly believe that God is in control of my life.
“I thoroughly believe that Peter is there. We’re doing the right thing. I have no doubt that Peter would be doing
the same if we were in that plane, but I also now believe completely and absolutely that I am not in control of my life. And
I received great spiritual comfort in Afghanistan, too.”
The Website of the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation is www.goodrichfoundation.org.