The Pleasure of Looking Up
Joseph Leavey had a crush on skyscrapers. He could stand for hours outside a high-rise and marvel at it. He always wanted to become a firefighter, but he became an engineer in the construction industry because of his affection for buildings. Then he became a firefighter.
His favorite spot was Battery Park City. His favorite buildings: the World Trade Center. It was his habit to take his family to Lower Manhattan, so he could soak in the dimensions of the trade center. He took endless pictures of the buildings, sometimes lying flat on his back.
As a lieutenant with Ladder 15 in the South Street Seaport, Mr. Leavey, 45, was one of the first firefighters to reach the trade center on Sept. 11.
He lived in Pelham, N.Y., with his wife, Carole, a son, Brian, 16, and a daughter, Caitlin, 10. A stepdaughter, Kerri, 26, lives in Manhattan.
"Joe was a real people person," Carole Leavey said. "There wasn't a person in Pelham Joe didn't know."
For the family Christmas card, he often tried to get a family portrait set somewhere amid New York's skyscrapers. No one forgot the time he hustled them to the top of the Citicorp building so he could shoot them with the New York skyline in the background.
"I swear it must have been 20 degrees below zero," said his stepdaughter. "The winds were like 100 miles an hour."
It turned out the picture was overexposed. So Mr. Leavey substituted a photo of the family in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 12, 2001.