William Reed Bethke

William Reed Bethke
World Trade Center

Connoisseur of Technology

Computers were not just tools for work to William R. Bethke. There was a logic, an internal magic and mystery that drew him to understand their hummings and beepings. His house in Hamilton, N.J., resembled an elephant's graveyard for computers. Wires, cables and circuit boards filled his workshop-office and spilled into the basement, some machines partly disassembled, others lovingly rebuilt from spare parts.

"If somebody had an old computer, they would automatically think of Bill; if someone needed a new computer, he would refurbish one and give it to them," said Mr. Bethke's wife, Valerie. "He liked everything that was technical and complex."

Mr. Bethke, 36, followed his nose for technology pretty much right out of high school, landing a job first at I.B.M., which sent him to school and taught him to diagnose the ailments of sick machines, and later at Marsh & McLennan's computer processing department at the World Trade Center. He liked to shoot pistols at a gun range with his friend and next-door neighbor, David Koprivich, perhaps from the same impulse — an appreciation of finely tuned mechanical performance.

He was never quite able to communicate the love of technology to his wife, but Ms. Bethke said she got used to it: "I'd just say, `O.K., honey.' "

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on February 24, 2002.

In the days after the terror attack on the World Trade Center, William R. Bethke's brother placed flowers and a photo of his youngest sibling beside a cross on his New Jersey front lawn. He has been lighting candles at the shrine each night ever since.

"In the beginning it was hoping; then it became a memorial," said Brian Bethke.

With each day that passes, the memorial has grown. Passersby have added to it with poems and notes, flowers and handmade flags. Brian Bethke has decided to leave it up. "It kind of keeps you going," he said.

His brother, a 36-year-old resident of Hamilton, N.J., was a computer programmer at Marsh USA and was transferred to the company's trade center offices last May from an office outside Princeton.

"He was just telling me a few months ago that he moved up in the world. He was proud of it, just the prestige of it. And to get that far in his company ... that was the main branch."

Bethke rode the train into the city with a relative on Sept. 11. He was at his office on the 95th floor of the north tower when the first plane hit.

Like thousands of others, Bethke's relatives franticallydistributed fliers throughout the city and stood in long lines at the armory in New York to check lists of survivors.

But eventually, the search gave way to acceptance. Last Friday, Bethke's brother prepared a photo album for a family memorial service, held on Saturday in the church where Bethke and his wife were married six years ago.

Earlier this week, Marsh USA--where more than 300 workers have been reported missing--held a memorial service in Princeton for Bethke and other colleagues who also had been transferred to the World Trade Center from New Jersey. Bethke's sister Myrna, a Methodist pastor, helped to plan it.

"At one level, dying is a part of life. We just never expected it to be this way," she said. "It's difficult to do any individual grieving when so many thousands are grieving at the same time."

Profile courtesy of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

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