'Keep the Family Together'
His workmates often called him Jambalaya because his Albanian last name was so hard to pronounce. Mon Gjonbalaj (pronounced JAHN-buh- lie) liked the Cajun nickname even though he was always proud of his Albanian roots.
He was a janitor at the World Trade Center and he loved the camaraderie, often showing up an hour before work started to chat with friends.
"He was supposed to retire last year," said his son Sal. "He was going to turn 66 on Oct. 31, but he wanted to continue working. He was so attached to that building. He didn't want to let go. It was his second home."
Mr. Gjonbalaj stuck close to his family in New York and in Europe. He lived with his three sons in a three-family house in the Bronx, while his daughter worked as a translator for NATO forces in Kosovo. Last year, he went to Kosovo to help his brother rebuild a house destroyed in the war there.
After the twin towers were attacked, Sal said, his father called home and said, "I'm trapped. I don't think I'm going to see you guys again. Keep the family together. Be strong."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on September 26, 2001.