‘Part of our life’

Retiring SU staff members reflect on involvement in honoring Pan Am Flight 103 victims


In Judy O’Rourke’s office, there are reminders of Pan Am Flight 103 everywhere. On the left side of her desk, there is a colorful quilt with photographs of the earlier Lockerbie Scholars who came to Syracuse University.

In Ed Galvin’s office, there are reminders of Pan Am Flight 103 everywhere. On a table, the university archivist has a snow globe of three memorials for the victims of the Dec. 21, 1988 bombing. It has built-in music box that plays “Amazing Grace.”

O’Rourke, the co-director of the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising, and Galvin, director of archives and records management, have worked at SU for 34 and 20 years, respectively. In that time, O’Rourke and Galvin have been synonymous with SU’s relationship with Lockerbie and the legacy of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing. Remembrance Week, which honors and remembers the victims of the bombing, including 35 SU students, runs through Saturday.

But now, they’re leaving. O’Rourke and Galvin both decided to participate in the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program, a buyout program for non-faculty members whose age and years of service combined is 65 or more. Galvin’s last day is Saturday and O’Rourke will retire in December.

However, their work with Pan Am Flight 103 and the Remembrance and Lockerbie scholarship programs is not done yet.

We’re both planning to stay involved after we leave here. It’s not just part of our job, it’s part of our life and will continue to be.
Ed Galvin

Both said they will continue to be active in Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, an advocacy group that many of the victims’ families are involved in. O’Rourke serves as secretary and writes the group’s newsletter, while Galvin is on the advisory board.

Over the years, O’Rourke and Galvin have developed deep personal ties with victims’ families, Remembrance and Lockerbie Scholars and other SU colleagues through the tragedy. When Lockerbie Scholars arrive in the U.S., they are greeted by O’Rourke and her husband at the airport and stay at her house for a few days. When victims’ families come to visit SU, Galvin meets with them and shows them the university’s Pan Am Flight 103 collection.

When Colin Dorrance’s daughter became a Lockerbie Scholar for the 2012-13 academic year and they were 3,000 miles apart, he said he felt grateful for O’Rourke’s support. Dorrance was the youngest police officer and one of the first ones on the scene when the bombing happened.

He said he’d never thought he would respond to a plane crash where there were college students near his age that died. He’d also never thought that 24 years later, he would have a daughter at the same age go to that same college and meet the victims’ families.

When he and his wife came to visit their daughter, Claire, in April 2013, O’Rourke let them stay in her home for 10 days. She dined with them and showed them around the city.

She really opened up her house to us. She went over and above what was really necessary. She didn’t just organize a program. Judy opened up her home and was almost like a mom to Claire throughout that time.
Colin Dorrance

While they were at SU, Galvin interviewed Dorrance as part of an oral history for the archives. Later that year, Dorrance returned the favor when Galvin and two other employees from SU archives went to Lockerbie. Dorrance became their guide and took them to the memorials for Pan Am Flight 103.

During their visit, they conducted interviews with first responders, police officers and local residents — for some people, it was the first opportunity to publically talk about what they went through following the bombing.

Mary Kay Stratis, who lost her husband Elia in the bombing, has worked with both O’Rourke and Galvin through the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103.

“What they do is done so well that I thought they would do it forever,” Stratis said, laughing.

But the decision to retire was not out of the blue for either of them.

“Folks my age talk about this thing all the time,” O’Rourke said with a laugh.

Although her retirement is a little earlier than she had been initially planning, O’Rourke said it made sense to participate in the buyout program. Her husband retired last year and she wants to spend more time with her children, who live all over the world. But Pan Am Flight 103 has served as a teachable moment for her children, who were young when the terrorist attack happened.

“They always think about how this is going to affect others and how they can help other people,” O’Rourke said, her eyes welling up. “That’s the thing I’m most proud of.” She paused, rolled her chair to grab a tissue and dabbed her eyes.

I’m not sure that would have happened in the way it does without this terrible tragedy. But at the same time, I learned and I was able to teach them.
Judy O'Rourke

Galvin said after taking the buyout, he originally thought he would leave SU in September, but decided it would best if he stayed for one more Remembrance Week. He will be moving to Yarmouth on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod so he can be closer to his children and his first grandchild.

Lawrence Mason, a professor of multimedia, photography and design who has worked with O’Rourke and Galvin on Remembrance Week activities, said the two retiring in the same year is almost unthinkable. He added that he has been dreading O’Rourke’s retirement because she was so integral to the Remembrance programs.

O’Rourke said there are a lot of people who will carry on the program and bring new ideas and different perspectives to it. She admitted that it feels a little weird to not be officially part of the program, but said she’ll still be around.

And although Galvin won’t be in the Syracuse area, he said he’s still very proud to be part of the Pan Am Flight 103 family.

“We’re all in the same place,” he said. “We’re all trying to find justice for the 270 victims in whatever way we can.”