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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com
Boston Globe Online / Nation | World
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Firm and families mourn seven women

By Alice Dembner, and Bella English, Globe Staff, 9/13/2001

They were frequent travelers who thrived on the fast-paced world of fashion and who lived equally rewarding lives at home. One had returned from maternity leave just two months ago. Another was set to marry a co-worker later this month. A third had battled back from a serious illness.

Early Tuesday, the seven colleagues from TJX Co. of Framingham - the parent corporation of Marshall's and T.J. Maxx clothing chains - boarded American Airlines Flight 11. They were planning to open a new T.J. Maxx outlet in Los Angeles, check on stores, and acquire the latest fashions.

Hours later, they perished, leaving the company devastated and seven children without mothers.

''It is impossible to adequately describe the sense of loss and sadness we all feel,'' said TJX president Ted English, his voice choked with emotion. ''All these women were in the prime of their lives and their careers.''

Only Sunday, Neilie Casey, 32, had run a race for breast cancer, pushing her 6-month-old daughter, Riley, in a stroller, while her husband, Michael, ran beside them, according to a family friend, Nichole Bernier-Ahern. In July, upon her return from maternity leave, Casey had transferred to the firm's Framingham office to be nearer home and day care. It was her first trip in the new job, to visit stores and help with merchandise planning.

''Hers was a life of purpose filled with thoughtfulness, grace, and goodness,'' her family said in a statement. ''Neilie was a radiant presence in the lives of all who knew her.''

A golfer as well as a runner, she married her college sweetheart and settled into a new house in Wellesley just a year ago. ''Everything was just clicking,'' said Bernier-Ahern.

Robin Kaplan of Westborough had been scheduled to take an earlier flight, according to her brother, Mark. ''But she would have had to get up too early, so she didn't,'' he said, his voice trailing off.

Kaplan, 33, was heading west to help set up the phones, computers, and electronic equipment for a new store. She had thrown herself into work after a battle with Crohn's disease and had recently promised to pay the mortgages of all her condominium neighbors if she won the lottery jackpot, according to her neighbor, Beverly Weaver.

Kaplan's strong connections to the company included her mother, Francine, and her longtime boyfriend.

Tara Creamer, 30, a planning manager for T.J. Maxx, loved her job but didn't like leaving her 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter. She kissed her sleeping children and said goodbye to her groggy husband, John, and dog, Oliver, before heading to Logan to catch American Airlines Flight 11.

She and her husband met as students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and married in 1994. ''She was a totally devoted mother,'' said John Creamer, who teaches school in Worcester, where the family lives.

Lisa Fenn Gordenstein, 41, of Needham, left behind two children and her husband, David.

The merchandise manager had a heart ''as big as an ocean,'' said English of TJX.

Traveling along with Gordenstein on a buying trip were Linda George, 27, and Christine Barbuto, 32.

George, with five years at the company, was planning to marry a fellow employee within the month, and they were saving to buy a house.

''Linda was passionate about our business ... and an extremely creative buyer,'' said English.

The Westborough resident leaves her mother, father, sister, and brother.

Barbuto had also been at the company for five years. Devoted to her career, she had worked her way up to buyer in ladies' sportswear. At her Brookline apartment yesterday, a bunch of flowers was placed outside the doorway. She leaves her father and two sisters.

''She was a nice, bubbly, outgoing kind of girl,'' said a neighbor. ''She was very sweet.''

In Westford, loved ones were mourning the death of Susan McAleney MacKay, an assistant vice president. She was 44 and leaves her husband, Douglas, and children, Matthew, 13, and Lauren, 8.

''The focus of her life was her family, and she was especially close to her parents, sisters, and brothers,'' said a family spokesman. ''She loved to sew and could be counted on to create a First Communion dress, bridal gown, or draperies for family, friends, and neighbors.''

Globe Staff correspondents Erica Noonan and Scott W. Helman contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A11 of the Boston Globe on 9/13/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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