The oldest of five children, Jean DePalma was a leader from the beginning.
"She was like a third parent," said Ed Caviasco, a brother.
DePalma's organizational skills and take-charge sensibilities served her well, whether it was raising her two teenagers, getting the finances in order at her church or climbing the corporate ladder in her accounting career.
DePalma, 42, was a certified public accountant and a vice president at Marsh & McLennan Cos., with an office on the 100th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower.
DePalma, of Newfoundland, N.J., came from a tightly knit family that often has Sunday dinner together at her parents' home in Wayne, N.J. She was also a mainstay at nearby St. Joseph's Church, where her children attend the parish school and DePalma served as chairwoman of the finance committee.
"She was a person of very strong character," Rev. Boniface Hanley said. "She was a very strong person."
Her community has been devastated by the Sept. 11 attacks. Jeremy Glick, one of the passengers credited with heroism on Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, also lived there. And Rev. Mychal Judge, the beloved Fire Department chaplain who was one of the first firefighters killed when the World Trade Center collapsed, had been a pastor at St. Joseph's.
"It's really tough on everybody up here, the whole thing," Hanley said.
Divorced for more than a year, DePalma was a dedicated single mother, taking 17-year-old Drew and Jamie, 16, on ski trips to Vermont. She traveled with Drew, a talented soccer player, to tournaments that took him all over New Jersey and, at times, cross-country, Caviasco said.
Since DePalma's children were in high school and her painful divorce was behind her, Caviasco said his sister's future was wide open. Now, as he reviews the events of Sept. 11, he takes some solace in the hope that she didn't suffer when the hijacked airliner struck not far from her office.
"She didn't know what happened," he said. "I'm pretty sure that was the case."
Profile courtesy of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.
Jean C. DePalma, 42, 'perfect big sister'
Jean C. DePalma was the classic oldest child, her siblings said, a highly organized and capable woman who succeeded in business and could juggle the demands of career and motherhood. Her brothers and sisters often turned to her for leadership and advice.
"She was the perfect big sister who wanted to take care of everybody and protect everybody," recalled her sister, Francine Michalski of Wayne.
Ms. DePalma, 42, died Sept. 11 at One World Trade Center, where she worked on the 100th floor as a certified public accountant for Marsh USA.
"I had a difficult time in my life, and she made it easier for me by taking charge, and by being kind and giving. Our father always called her 'Mrs. Wonderful,'" recalled Michalski.
Ms. DePalma grew up in Wood-Ridge, the oldest of five children, the one who would organize plays and projects. In 1980, she graduated from Montclair State University with honors and a degree in accounting. For many years before joining Marsh USA, she worked at Campos & Stratis, where she became a partner.
"She had very good business sense, and if there was a predicament, she always knew what to do and how to take control of the situation," recalled her sister, Michele Caviasco of Manhattan. "I admired how she built her way up to a successful career. But she never forgot a birthday, or a card."
Ms. DePalma was both career woman and soccer mom. Her 17-year-old son, Drew, is a gifted soccer player, and Ms. DePalma traveled with him to Los Angeles for tournaments. She took her daughter, Jamie, horseback riding. There was also skiing and tennis.
"Her children were the top of her world," Michalski said.
Ms. DePalma, who lived in West Milford, could multi-task like no one else, which explains how she also had time for volunteer work, her siblings said. She was a parishioner of the St. Joseph R.C. Church in West Milford, where she served as the chairwoman of the parish and elementary school finance committees, and founded a walk-a-thon.
"She was a real go-getter," said her brother, Edmund Caviasco of Ringwood.
Recently divorced, Ms. DePalma was emerging from a difficult personal time, her siblings said. "She was finding herself and becoming happy," said Francine Michalski. "This is so unfair."
In addition to her children, two sisters and brother, Ms. DePalma is survived by another brother, Steven Caviasco of Ramsey, and her parents, Edmund N. and Frances M. Caviasco of Wayne.
A memorial service will be held Oct. 7 at 3:30 at St. Joseph R.C. Church on Germantown Road in West Milford. A Scholarship in Jean DePalma's name has been established at the St. Joseph Elementary School.
Profile by Carol Ann Campbell published in THE STAR-LEDGER.