A tribute in laughter and tears

Remembrance: Folks gathered at the Ropewalk Tavern yesterday to lift a glass -- and maybe their spirits -- as they talked about their friend Lizz Wainio.

October 22, 2001|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,SUN COLUMNIST

They stocked some extra Rolling Rock at the Ropewalk Tavern in South Baltimore yesterday because it was Lizz Wainio's favorite beer and her friends, whose tastes run strictly to other American brews, drank the Rock in her honor.

Marc and Bill McFaul, who own the tavern, brought in some musicians and set up a table with a jar for donations in Lizz Wainio's name, and there was a scrapbook of photographs and tributes to her.

This is how the friends of a young, smart, beautiful woman who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, tried to turn their simmering grief into something positive.

That's what Wainio, who died in the crash of United Airlines flight 93 in Pennsylvania, would have wanted.

"She was always looking at the positive in people," said her friend and the tavern owners' sister, Linda McFaul. "She found the positive in everyone. ... Lizz wasn't perfect, but she came pretty close."

"People liked her the first time they met her," said another friend, Wendy Simmons. "She had such positive energy."

Wainio had dark hair and sparkling eyes, a pretty woman.

"Pretty in here," said her stepmother Phyllis Heymann, and she pointed to her heart as she stood with her husband, Ben Wainio, and Lizz's brother, Tom.

The tavern, on South Charles Street near Cross Street Market, was busier than it's ever been on a warm Sunday afternoon in October with the Ravens playing an away game. Marc McFaul promised to take the proceeds from the day's sales of food and drink and put it into a scholarship fund that's been set up in her name at Wainio's alma mater, Towson University. He's going to make a donation to the American Red Cross, too.

There was plenty of chatter and laughter in the Ropewalk. Wainio would have wanted that, too. She was 27 years old, full of future, and she knew how to have fun.

The Ropewalk was Cheers for her, where everyone knew her name, where she shared stories with friends, where she played a mean game of foos ball, and where countless young men fell in love with her.

Sometimes the parties would roll past closing time to someone's house -- maybe Simmons' place or Chanda Jones'. They'd sit up all night, just talking about the things friends talk about. One night last August, Lizz hooked up with Linda McFaul at the Ropewalk after an Orioles game and they stayed up till 5 the next morning, just talking. Lizz caught a couple hours of sleep then bolted to make a commitment -- she'd promised to take her little sister, Sarah, to get her nails done.

"Lizz was very career-minded but also very focused on family and friends," said Simmons, sporting a "Bud Girl" cap inside the bar.

During the last couple of years, after Wainio took a job with the Discovery Channel stores and moved to the New York metropolitan area, she came back frequently to Baltimore and Catonsville, where she grew up, to see family and friends.

"When she visited, she was constantly on the go. She believed she had to spend time with everyone who was important to her," Linda McFaul said.

"Yeah," Simmons added, "she'd be running two hours late sometimes to meet us at the Ropewalk, and you'd find out later she'd been with an uncle or at her sister's play."

Even after settling in Watchung, N.J., and getting big-time busy and successful as a district manager for the Discovery Channel chain, she made a point of driving back to Baltimore for birthdays -- Chanda's in March, Linda's in May, Wendy's in June. They always seemed to end up at the Ropewalk together.

And there were scores of e-mails and phone calls. At least one of her friends always seemed to know what Wainio was doing next -- business trips, vacations.

They knew all about her trip early last month to Italy to be a bridesmaid for a friend from Catonsville High School days who was getting married in Tuscany.

And they knew Wainio was headed to Paris after that to meet another friend, a college chum named Carrie Stricker, and tour the city.

They knew what her last days were like -- back home in New Jersey on Sunday, Sept. 9, catch-up and errands on Monday, Sept. 10. Simmons, who works for CitiFinancial in downtown Baltimore, knew Wainio had to make a trip to San Francisco out of Newark. She heard from her on the morning of Sept. 11.

"I got a voice-mail from her at work," Simmons said. "She said, `It's 6:30. I figured you wouldn't want a wake-up call at home.' She thanked me for all the funny e-mails I'd sent her while she was in Italy and France. She was off to San Francisco for work. `Talk to you soon,' she said."

It was the last time Simmons heard her best friend's voice.

But it was not Honor Elizabeth Wainio's last phone call.

She was among the passengers on Flight 93 who managed to use cellular phones to call loved ones in the frantic minutes after the United Airlines jet had been hijacked. Her friends say Lizz Wainio managed to spend 11 minutes on the phone with her stepmother.

The plane crashed in Shanksville, in western Pennsylvania.

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