Tough, With a Studious Side
The seeds of Denease Conley's toughness could be seen early on. She once had a fight with an older sister who locked herself in the bathroom, and to get her out, Denny, as she was known, threw a cherry bomb at the bathroom door.
In high school in Kansas City, she studied karate, loved Bruce Lee and even painted a poster of him on her wall. She served in the Navy for four years, and afterward became a security guard at the World Trade Center. When a supervisor taunted her by saying she was too weak to work as a firefighter, she took up his challenge and passed the qualifying exams to become a New York City firefighter.
She also had a studious side, receiving a bachelor's degree in English and philosophy from Hunter College. "Her apartment was filled with books," said her sister, Barbara Haynes. "She had a thirst for knowledge. She read everything. I called her the professional college student. And this was a child that at one time did not want to go to school."
Ms. Haynes was surprised at how many people packed the memorial service. "Several people said my sister helped save their lives," she said. "One friend said the last time he saw Denny she was holding a door open with a fireman. Knowing my sister, she had this take-charge attitude that she had to help other people get out."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 24, 2001.