Howard Kestenbaum

Howard Kestenbaum
World Trade Center

For Experience, a Shelter

Howard Kestenbaum worried about the homeless. He spent nights in a shelter to see what it was like, and would respond to a request for a dollar with a five, along with a suggestion to get some soup and a sandwich.

He was involved with his temple, Beth Ahm in Verona, N.J., and was impressed that so many there had been through crises like the Depression and World War II. His friends and relatives speak of him as unassuming and friendly. Lauren, his 24-year-old daughter, said she remembered him at home in Montclair, "standing in my doorway, try to get me to go do something with him, like go for a walk. "Him in a flannel shirt," she said. "My dad was a good guy, he was a really good guy."

He met his wife, Granvilette, when they were both graduate students at Columbia. He was studying astrophysics; she was in social work. At Aon Risk Services, Mr. Kestenbaum, 56, used his training to develop models to help clients understand how real certain risks were. In his office on the 103rd floor of the south tower, he hung a lightly weighted paper cup from the ceiling -- and noted how it and the building swayed in high winds.

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 1, 2001.

Howard Kestenbaum, 56, loved to laugh

From the very beginning -- when he accidentally fell on her at a party in the West Village -- he made her laugh. He walked her home that night but, amusing or not, she wouldn't give him her phone number.

A few days later, however, she picked up the phone to hear someone say it was "Howie." Not recognizing his voice, she asked: "Howie who?"

"Fine, thank you, and how are you?" Howie Kestenbaum replied.

For 31 years of marriage, Howard and Granvilette Kestenbaum of Montclair talked every day, and he always made her laugh.

The last time Mrs. Kestenbaum heard her husband's voice was on the morning of Sept. 11, on a recorded message telling her: "Howard Kestenbaum can't come to the phone right now."

"If I had known it was the last time, I would have taped it," she said last week.

She had called his office on the 103rd floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, where he worked for Aon Corp., after getting a frantic and garbled cell phone call from Lauren, their 24-year-old daughter.

Lauren Kestenbaum had been on a bus bound for Manhattan when she saw the first plane hit. "My daddy is in that building," said the New York City librarian as she and fellow passengers stared in horror from their bus, which was beginning its descent toward the Lincoln Tunnel toll plaza. A woman gave Lauren a cell phone and she called her mother but lost contact when the bus entered the tunnel.

By the time Mrs. Kestenbaum called her husband's office, he and his colleagues had made it to the 78th floor, where they were when the second plane hit. Witnesses have told Mrs. Kestenbaum that her 56-year-old husband apparently was knocked unconscious by debris. A colleague, Vijay Paramsoth, 26, was seen trying to help him. Both remain missing.

Mr. Kestenbaum was a senior vice president in charge of Aon Corp.'s risk analysis group. He was born in Newark and grew up in Maplewood, where he graduated from Columbia High School in 1963. He earned a bachelor's degree from Williams College in Massachusetts and a Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University.

His brother, Stuart, said last week that when he and Howard were growing up in Maplewood, he looked upon his older brother -- who excelled in athletics and school -- as a star. But listening to people at a memorial held for Mr. Kestenbaum last month, Stuart Kestenbaum marveled at "how kind and generous he had become as an adult. . . . What a beautiful man he became."

The Kestenbaums and their daughter moved to Montclair 16 years ago. Mr. Kestenbaum was an avid baseball fan who began memorizing baseball statistics when he was 8 years old and kept a 1953 team photo of the New York Yankees on the wall of his study at home.

Mr. Kestenbaum was an active member of Congregation Beth Ahm in Verona. Besides his wife and daughter, he is survived by his mother, Annete of Portland, Maine; two brothers, Herbert of Glenside, Pa., and Stuart of Deer Isle, Maine; and a sister, Susan Saffer of Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

More than 700 people attended Mr. Kestenbaum's Sept. 30 memorial.

Profile by Fran Dauth published in THE STAR-LEDGER.

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