At the age of 4, Alicia Titus handed over all of her vacation spending money — one whole dollar — to a homeless man begging on the streets of San Francisco. “From the time Alicia was born, she taught me about unconditional love and compassion,” recalled her mother, Bev Titus of rural Champaign County near St. Paris.
Today, Bev and her husband John continue to honor the memory of the vibrant 28-year-old flight attendant who died aboard United Airlines Flight 175 on 9/11. They’ll be sharing their story 7 p.m., tonight at the University of Dayton’s Sears Recital Hall at an event sponsored by the Dayton International Peace Museum. They will discuss John’s book, “Losing Alicia: A Father’s Journey After 9/11,” recently published by Friesen Press, as well as their quest to find peaceful solutions to conflict.
“This is Alicia’s legacy,” Bev explained. “When we begin to see each other as human beings, when we can begin to honor all of life with respect and compassion we touch the hearts and begin the healing of a nation and our world one heart at a time.”
John said he was deeply disturbed by the response to 9/11: “I didn’t want further innocent people dying as a result of my daughter’s death. We wanted to find justice without going to war. When the war drums were pounding to go into Afghanistan, I could see the faces of the little children and feel the pain of their parents. I felt deep compassion for our soldiers as well as those who would suffer as a result of our bombs.”
Once, at an anti-war protest, a reporter asked him what his daughter would have thought of their activism. “She would have been leading the protest,” John replied.
Added Bev, “She respected all living things and would rather wreck the car than to hit an animal on the road. Alicia had the greatest smile, laugh, hug and the sweetest voice. I miss all of those things about her and I miss her in my life.”
Some told the couple they were unpatriotic because of their anti-war stance. “As we were speaking out against the war and retaliation, the rest of the country was going to war, and we felt isolated and alone,” Bev recalled.
In 2002, they found a safe haven when they joined the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. “These were families who had lost ones on 9/11 who felt the same way we did about the war response and more killing,” Bev said. “We knew where it would lead — to more children being killed and more parents like ourselves grieving the loss of a child, more families being torn apart.”
The couple established the Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Fund at Urbana University, which has raised more than $51,000 for educational programs about the root causes of violence and alternatives to war. This year, with the profits from Alicia’s 5K Peace Run and other funds, they will start a scholarship fund in Alicia’s name at Urbana University.
While airport security has tightened since 9/11, John believes the root causes of terrorism have yet to be addressed. “I think the world is ripe for more incidents of terrorism,” he said. “It bothers me at a deep soul level that we haven’t found ways to resolve conflict rather than resorting to war.”
John kept a journal for the first year after Alicia’s death. His first attempts to write a book proved “overwhelming,” especially while he was still working as dean of students at Urbana University.” When he retired in 2009, he could dedicate himself wholeheartedly to his writing, and the book was published before the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Best-selling author Marianne Williamson raved, “If you read only one book about 9/11, make it this one.”
Concurred Peace Museum co-founder Christine Dull, “John’s writing had me feeling the agony and struggle that he endured to move from deep grief to putting his energy into working for nonviolent responses. I think he was inspired by his close relationship with God and the fact that his beloved Alicia was a person of love and peace herself. When everyone else was calling for revenge, he took the road less traveled, realizing the truth that violence only makes things worse and only peace could ever improve this world.”
Alicia graduated from Miami University in 1995 and worked for a marketing firm for a time before turning down an attractive business offer in New York City in order to become a flight attendant. Her goal was to travel the world while pursuing a graduate degree. She was engaged to be married and hoped to have children.
She had been working for United Airlines for only nine months on 9/11. She wanted to take the day off to babysit her nephew, but was turned down because of her lack of seniority,
“She was full of life — very intelligent, very astute, and full of joy,” her father said. “She was always looking for ways to spread that joy around.”
At family gatherings with their three surviving children and their grandchildren, John said, “there is still a hole; something is missing still. Alicia would have loved to be around her nieces and nephews, and she would probably have had kids of her own.”
Lamented Bev, “She had so much love to give and so little time. Alicia would look for the best in everybody she met, always wanting to do something to make someone else’s life a little better with a kind word, a smile, a hug. Her presence challenged me to be a better person and a better mom.”
For the Titus family, sharing their story has been a pathway to healing as well as a way to perpetuate Alicia’s legacy of peace and nonviolence. “We all have pain around 9/11 and we all have wounds that have not healed,” John said. “We need to share our thoughts and feelings on a deeper level.”
After Alicia was murdered, Bev said, “we had to be her voice.”
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