Four years ago, the U.S. Census Bureau awarded Waleska Martinez a bronze medal for her dedication to her job. On Tuesday, she boarded United Airlines Flight 93 in Newark, N.J., for a Census Bureau conference in San Francisco.
Martinez, 37, hadn't wanted to go: Her mother and brother were visiting from Puerto Rico.
"She felt like she was leaving her heart behind," Martinez's friend and co-worker, Maritza Padilla-Laureda, said Wednesday. "It was very hard for her to get on that plane."
Profile courtesy of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.
Waleska Martinez, 38, family's backbone
Government offices beyond the Pentagon and those in the World Trade Center were affected by the terrorist attack on Sept. 11. The U.S. Census Bureau lost two employees, both on the plane that was hijacked after leaving Newark International Airport and later crashed in a field outside Pittsburgh.
Waleska Martinez and Marion Britton were on their way to a job-related conference in San Francisco when United Flight 93 went down, killing 44 people.
Ms. Martinez was an automation supervisor. The 38-year-old was a Jersey City resident.
Marion Britton was an assistant regional director. Ms. Britton lived in Brooklyn and had worked for the Census Bureau in New York for 21 years. She was 53.
Ms. Martinez worked for the bureau for 13 years and was based at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan.
Friends and family said Ms. Martinez loved her work. In 1998, the same year she was promoted to supervisor, Ms. Martinez was given the Bronze Medal, the Census Bureau's highest award.
"She was very dedicated to her job," said Angela Lopez, Ms. Martinez's roommate. "She was well known within the Census Bureau, mostly because she was so helpful and so responsible."
A native of Santurce, Puerto Rico, Ms. Martinez moved to Jersey City in 1987. She lived in Hoboken but returned to Jersey City. She was a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico, earning a degree in computer science.
Ms. Martinez began her career with as a clerk. She worked on both the 1990 and Decennial censuses, gaining several significant promotions over the years. Two years before the 2000 Census, she was chosen as automation supervisor for the New York region.
In that capacity, Ms. Martinez was given "full technical, operational and managerial responsibility for the entire range of automation hardware, software and support, including a complex telecommunications network for the Regional Census Center and the 39 Census 2000 local census offices," according to her bureau biography.
To her father, Juan Martinez Sr. of Caguas, Puerto Rico, Ms. Martinez was "the backbone of the family." The oldest of four, she never failed to come to the aid of a family member, he said.
Ms. Martinez also helped friends and associates get jobs or improve their employment situations, her roommate said.
In her spare time, Ms. Martinez enjoyed movies and the theater, playing tennis, Spanish music and shopping for clothes.
Ms. Martinez also is survived by her mother, Irma Martinez of Caguas, Puerto Rico; a sister, Lourdes LeBron of Springfield, Mass.; two brothers, Reinaldo Martinez of Caguas and Juan Jr. of Springfield, and a grandmother, Lucila Castillo of Tampa, Fla.
Eulogies and remembrances will preceed an 11a.m. Saturday memorial Mass for Ms. Martinez at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Jersey City.
Profile by Guy Sterling published in THE STAR-LEDGER.