Energetic Family Booster
They may be aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces, but the three dozen members of the McDay family prefer to see one another as a nuclear family. Once a month, they would come together in one big, boisterous gathering, and invariably, Tonyell McDay was at its creative and energetic nucleus.
An artist and gospel singer, Tonyell, 25, was devoted to her sprawling family, and she was just starting on her next project: a Caribbean cruise next year for the entire group. "She just loved being part of this huge family," said her aunt, Ladora Knight. "She loved bringing everyone together."
Tonyell was also deeply spiritual. Her grandfather and uncle are bishops, and her father, Rufus, is a deacon in a local church. Tonyell's choir, Voices of Praise, was about to make its first recording.
A computer technician for Marsh Technologies on the 97th floor of 1 World Trade Center, she lived with her parents in Colonia, N.J. Since the Sept. 11 attack, the house has somehow accommodated dozens of relatives, who have been holding a round- the-clock vigil. "We're just sleeping all over the house," Mrs. Knight said. "Tonyell would have wanted it that way."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on September 20, 2001.
Tonyell McDay, 25, skilled in art, poetry and computers
Tonyell McDay wanted to take her family on vacation.
She worked hours and hours of overtime until she had gathered enough money. This past August she took her parents, brother and grandparents to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"It was the best vacation we ever had," her mother, Cynthia, remembered yesterday at the family's home in the Colonia section of Woodbridge.
Ms. McDay, a 25-year-old certified desk help analyst for the Marsh & McLennan brokerage firm in New York, was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Her office was on the 97th floor of Tower One.
"She is our World Trade Center heroine," Cynthia McDay said. "I know on Sept. 11 she was pulling someone to safety. That's what she would do, even if it cost her life."
Ms. McDay's father Rufus took his daughter to the train every morning and picked her up at night. One morning, she ran out of the car and disappeared. Minutes later, she returned with a bag of food.
"Tonyell had spotted a woman at the station picking up food off the ground and eating it," her mother said. "She ran out and bought her food so she didn't have to eat off the ground."
Sept. 11 was the one day that Rufus McDay couldn't bring his daughter to the train because he had a meeting and she was running late.
"She always ran upstairs and kissed me goodbye before she left but this time she told me she loved me and would call me when she got into her office," Cynthia McDay said. "She never called."
Instead, Cynthia and her sister Alexis Williams spent most of that Tuesday trying unsuccessfully to reach Tonyell -- by phone or by pager.
"It's so hard for us," Alexis Williams said. "We never experienced death in our family or had a major tragedy. We never gave up looking for her -- until we got the call that her body had been found."
Williams said her sister was an accomplished artist and poet whose work was published in a 1996 collection of poems titled "Muse To Follow," from the National Library of Poetry.
Titled "Baseball," her contribution told the story of a young girl watching a baseball game who is given a chance to play and makes the most of it.
Tonyell worked for Marsh & McLennan for about 14 months. She was a graduate of the Cittone School, where she studied computers and technology.
"She loved computers," her mother said. "She could take a computer apart and rebuild it. They were her work, but also her hobby. She even repaired computers for people and wouldn't charge for it."
Ms. McDay was also a "little mother," to her 17-year-old brother RuVaughn.
"RuVaughn is suffering the most without her," said Cynthia McDay. "He doesn't have his shopping partner, his eating buddy. She took care of him."
Ms. McDay's remains were found in the rubble earlier this month. A service will be held for her Saturday at the Agape Fellowship Christian Center in Rahway at 11 a.m.
Profile by Sue Epstein published in THE STAR-LEDGER.