Donna Bernaerts-Kearns

Donna Bernaerts-Kearns
World Trade Center

Soft Heart, Sharp Tongue

Even after she became a successful computer programmer, Donna Bernaerts Kearns never forgot what it was like to grow up poor. So each Christmas, she would get her colleagues at Accenture to participate in the Postal Service's Secret Santa drive for needy children. "She would go out and buy coats, boots and puzzles," said her older sister, Rosemarie D'Amato. "She would spend her lunch hours doing these things."

Ms. Kearns, 44, who was known as Donna Bernaerts at work, had a soft heart, but she also could have a sharp tongue. "She didn't let anybody take advantage of her," her sister said. "She was honest about how she felt."

Often, what she felt was the weight of a stressful life, Ms. D'Amato said. Ms. Kearns frequently worked late into the night from her home in Hoboken, N.J. She would get to her office at 1 World Trade Center by 8 a.m. so she could spend more time with her son, Joseph, who is mildly autistic. Now, her husband, Edward, is learning how to take care of Joseph, now 11, on his own. "It's all on one shoulder now," Ms. D'Amato said.

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 29, 2001.

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