All Too Much in the Family
There was a piece of favorite banter between 5-year-old Derek Leohner and his grandpa, Frederick J. Hoffmann. The grandfather would ask, "Who loves you?" Derek would reply, "Pop Pop." "How much?" Mr. Hoffman would ask, and the answer would come back, "Too much."
"I only hope that Derek knows how true this was," said Nicole Leohner, Derek's mother and Mr. Hoffman's daughter.
The day after Derek was born in Ohio, six weeks premature, Mr. Hoffman hopped into his car and drove nine hours straight through, getting a speeding ticket along the way. When he saw the baby, lying in an incubator and connected to tubes, he said he looked like a movie star.
When Derek was less than a year old, his parents moved back to Freehold, N.J., where his grandparents live. Mr. Hoffman's wife, Gail, said that over breakfast last week, Derek said he wished he had a magic pebble, so he could "make a wish, and Pop Pop and Aunt Shelly will be with us, and we will be a happy family again."
Aunt Shelly was Michele L. Hoffmann, Mr. Hoffmann's younger daughter. She went with Derek to his school Halloween parades and class trips. She took him to movies. She teased him.
And she was beautiful. She made people's heads turn. "People were drawn to her dazzling smile and bright blue and green eyes," her sister said.
Four years ago, Mr. Hoffman, a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, brought Michele, then 23, into his firm. He also brought in two other members of the family -- Ms. Leohner's husband, Bart, and Thomas Cosenza, Mrs. Hoffman's nephew. On Sept. 11, Mr. Leohner was out sick and Mr. Cosenza, was late for work. Mr. Hoffman and his niece were there.
"I always thought it nice to have the family members work together," Mrs. Hoffman said, "but who knew this would happen? Our loss is heavy, but it could have been heavier."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 15, 2001.