2 Marylanders among N.C. crash victims

Men remembered as devoted fathers, concerned citizens

January 09, 2003|By Marego Athans and Liz F. Kay | Marego Athans and Liz F. Kay,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

They were two men on business trips, both fathers of young children, both people whose warmth and energy drew the notice of their communities.

And by the vagaries of fate, the two Howard County men - Paul Stidham and Mark Congdon - were both passengers on US Airways Express Flight 5481, which crashed moments after takeoff yesterday in Charlotte, N.C., killing all 21 people on board.

In Maryland, as elsewhere, the accident turned a routine day into disaster for loved ones and colleagues.

At St. Augustine School in Elkridge, where Congdon's four children attend pre-school and elementary grades, Principal Patricia Schratz was working on the school newsletter when she got the call from Congdon's employer, who was trying to reach his wife, Annie.

"This should not have happened," Schratz said. "It's a tragedy. He was extremely personable, and obviously very concerned about his children, very loving toward his wife. He was a great guy. He was very concerned about his children's schoolwork. He and his wife were very solid citizens, and spiritual. It was an ideal situation - until today."

The Congdon family, which had moved to the Glenwood area within the past year, declined to comment last night.

For W.R. Grace official William Corcoran, the urgent note came while he was in a meeting in Washington. He learned that three Grace employees on their way to a company plant had been killed in the crash.

Paul Stidham, 46, one of his best friends at Grace's Columbia headquarters, was among them. A dedicated environmental official, Stidham leaves a wife, Dora, and two young daughters.

"This is a horrible tragedy for them. He was a great dad, very devoted to his kids," said Corcoran, a Grace vice president for public and regulatory affairs.

Stidham, who was director of environmental health and safety for the company, was en route to a Grace facility in Enoree, S.C., with two colleagues from Grace Performance Chemicals in Cambridge Mass.: Richard Lyons, 56, and Joseph Spiak, 46, when the plane crashed at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport and burst into flames.

Stidham, who grew up in the Richmond, Va., area and graduated from Texas A&M University, was passionate about his work, said Corcoran, who had known him for 14 years and worked with him in a previous job.

"He was a very warm human being, a complete professional, the kind of person you were proud to have in your company," Corcoran said. "He was the kind of person people asked to help them because he was always respectful. Even though he had a ton of knowledge, he never talked down to people. He could be conversational with an hourly person and one of our top engineers."

The Stidham family had moved into a new house in Dayton just before Christmas. Last night, the driveway was filled with the cars of relatives and co-workers who had come to mourn.

The Stidhams were newcomers in the four-home subdivision along Howard Road. But Stidham was already full of ideas for what his and the other families could do with their neighborhood.

"He always said, `We'll sit together and plan what we want to do with this development,'" said Gurinder Sandhu, who lived next door. "Now we have no chance."

"He was planning to do things in the community, like widen the entry road and hire a common landscaper to do some work," said her husband, Singh.

Singh Sandhu remembers meeting the family in September while they waited for the house to be finished. Stidham "was very gentle, very helping and cooperative," he said.

Stidham hid the basketball hoop and trampoline he gave his two daughters for Christmas in the Sandhus' garage. In the summer, Stidham planned to build a deck on the back of his home overlooking the woods, and Singh Sandhu said he'd volunteered to help.

Ainna Sandhu is an eighth-grader at Glenwood Middle School, where she said Stidham's elder daughter attended sixth grade.

Stidham would often see her waiting at the bus stop, Ainna said, and offer to let her wait in his car until her parents came to pick her up.

"Without us even knowing each other, he would be so caring," Ainna said.

The Stidham family declined to speak to reporters yesterday.

Sun staff writer Laura Cadiz contributed to this article.

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