A father lives on in his daughters
The day Robyn Elizabeth Higley was born 10 years ago, her father wasn't able to cradle her in his arms.
On big sister Amanda's fifth birthday, their father couldn't give her a present.
On her 30th birthday, their mother, Vycki, was a pregnant mother with a young daughter who expected to raise the children and grow old with the college sweetheart she married in 1994.
But she quickly learned "the world is cruel," the now 40-year-old Higley-Pratt told a group of residents and visitors during a 9/11 remembrance service Thursday night at the Bethel Health Care Center, where she was accompanied by two of her daughters.
Vykci Higley married her second husband, Rick Pratt, in 2003, and had a third daughter, Casey, now 6.
Almost eight-months pregnant with Robyn on Sept. 11, 2001, Vycki Higley was living in New Fairfield and working as a teller at Webster Bank on Main Street in Danbury.
The previous night, she said, she was "mad as heck" at Rob, who called to say he wasn't coming home after he and a group of friends from Ridgefield waited two hours for a New York Yankees game that was canceled because of rain.
While at work the next morning, she got a call advising her to phone her husband, because a plane had apparently crashed into the north tower. Before she could dial, Rob was on another line. He assured her "everything's fine." He was about to shepherd the eight to 12 people in his office into an elevator to the lobby.
Rob Higley never had the chance to catch the next elevator. A second hijacked plane crashed into the south tower and made a fireball of much of the upper floors.
More InformationRobyn Higley Born seven weeks after her father, Robert Higley II, died on 9/11 Was to be named Lauren, but her mother decided instead to name her in memory of her father Is now 9 and was featured in People magazine's "The Children of 9/11"
In Danbury, Vycki was confident her husband was safe, until she answered a second call. For a few days, she and her family held out hope Rob might have survived. Although he was unaccounted for, his cellphone continued to ring.
That glimmer of hope soon faded. On Sept. 15, 2001, Vycki fought to find words to tell Amanda, who bears a remarkable resemblance to her doting father, that Daddy was never coming home.
The one solace Vycki carries to this day is that her late husband died a hero. One of his colleagues told her she regrets she did not grab Rob and pull him into the elevator that he offered others.
Vycki is also comforted Rob died instantly, spared the agony of those who were forced to jump or were maimed beneath the collapsing towers.
Three years after the tragedy, DNA testing identified Rob's arm. They buried it in Ridgefield alongside Vycki's sister, Elizabeth, who died from kidney disease 18 months before 9/11. Vycki said she holds fast to her faith that her sister and first husband are now loving her and her daughters from their eternal home.
"9/11 changed my life, but it was not the first tragedy in my life," said Vycki, who donated a kidney to her sister before her death. "I hate that I'm now an expert on tragedy."
At this 10th anniversary, Vycki admits the last decade has been far from easy. The 9/11 attacks robbed her of her first love, and her second marriage has suffered from the spotlight of the historic event.
Vycki and her daughters have been interviewed and photographed for numerous print and television news articles. They are included in this month's People magazine special, "The Children of 9/11." They were also guests on "The View" and will be part of an ABC "20/20" special Sunday.
Vycki said she is often asked how she stood strong. Her answer: She needed to raise Rob's children.
"I didn't have the luxury to crumble," said Vycki, who until this year was a stay-at-home mother. She now works with adults with traumatic brain injuries at Ability Beyond Disability.
Showing off a photograph taken of 9/11 victims' children at America's Camp, Robyn -- one of 103 babies of 9/11 widows and widowers -- recalls one boy's antics and cannot resist a giggle.
"It's been so good to have all these friends who know what I've been through," said Robyn, who belongs to a girls' club called BFFWAD (Best Friends Forever Without A Dad).
"They're just like me."
Contact Nanci G. Hutson at email@example.com or at 860-354-2274.