Robert Frank Tipaldi was only 25 on that September day, 10 yearsago. He was working as an assistant trader for Cantor Fitzgerald,as he had for the past three and a half years. His office waslocated on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s northtower.
Tipaldi worked with his two high-school buddies, Jude Safi andRichard Caggiano – both neighborhood guys. He had landed them jobsthere, and the three remained inseparable – until that tragicday.
As his mother Stella Lombardo recalls, that morning started likeany other for the Xaverian High School and St. John’s Universitygraduate.
He left for work with his brother Richard that morning,Lombardo said, adding that her two sons would regularly drive fromtheir Dyker Heights home into lower Manhattan together. Robert, themiddle child, would go to his office at the WTC and Richard, theoldest, would hop on a PATH train to New Jersey. In the evenings,they would meet again by Robert’s office and drive hometogether.
My youngest child, Lauren, was getting ready for school. Shewas going to FIT at the time, continued Lombardo, who wears alocket with her son’s smiling face on it. I had no TV or radio on,but the phone rang about three minutes after the plane hit thenorth tower.
It was Robert.
He said, Mom, a plane hit the building.’ I thought he waskidding. He liked to joke around, so I told him to stop, she said.Then his voice changed. He sounded scared and shaky. He said. No,Mom, a plane really hit the building.’ I didn’t know what tothink.
Her daughter put on the television and Lombardo saw theunimaginable. I told him that everything would be okay and heanswered, I don’t know, the building is shaking. I see a lot ofsmoke and flames, I don’t know if I am going to get out ofhere.
Lombardo said she was totally caught off guard. ‘Of course youare!’ I told him. You’re young and strong and you can run down thestairs!’ she recalled.
But Tipaldi kept saying, Mom, I love you. Tell everyone, I lovethem, too. I gotta go.
That was the last time Lombardo heard from her son.
I waited and waited for a phone call, she said tearfully. Icounted the minutes, knowing he would escape. I couldn’t comprehendthe intensity of it all.
By that evening, the house was filled with family and friendsoffering comfort and support. Everyone knew he wasn’t coming home,except me, Lombardo said. It took me a very long time to come toterms with that.
Lombardo promptly put up flyers for the missing Tipaldi and histwo friends. Eventually, the remains of Safi and Caggiano wererecovered, but Tipaldi’s never were.
I have made peace with that, Lombardo said. For me he ishere, he is everywhere. He is wherever I am, inside of myheart.
Although she cannot visit a cemetery on important holidays,Lombardo places flowers near one of the many pictures of her son inher home and at the memorial garden at St. Ephrem’s Church.
He lived more in his 25 years than some people have in theirwhole lives, she said, noting that her son loved to ride hismotorcycle, play hockey and go skydiving. He was only 5’3, buthad the heart of a giant. He loved his friends and family.
Tipaldi had purchased a summer home in Brick, N.J., for lovedones to visit in July, 2001. Lombardo has kept the house and spendsmost of her summers in it with friends and family – just as Tipaldiwould have wanted. We are living on the dream for him, shesaid.
This year, Lombardo will not be going to the WTC ceremonies, butwill have a private prayer service in her home, for over 60 people.It’s very emotional and draining. I want to be surrounded byfamily instead of 3,000 strangers, she explained. We will tellfunny stories about him and have everyone over, just how he likedit.
There is a big void in our lives, Lombardo said. He had a bigpresence about him. Everything changed after we lost him.