Friends, families of Eric “Rick” Thorpe ’89 and Neil Levin ’76 reflect on how their lives made, and continue to make, a difference
Remembered by his father, Ray, and friends and classmates
To his friends and family, Eric “Rick” Thorpe ’89 will always be remembered for his athleticism, his gregarious personality and infectious sense of humor, and, above all, his selfless, giving nature.
It was perhaps his quieter side that was most endearing, a part of him that drove a desire to help others. That yearning to give back fully matured at Lafayette, where Rick stepped up to help establish a soup kitchen in downtown Easton and a Haitian outreach program.
After Lafayette, he established a successful financial career in Manhattan and joined Big Brothers Big Sisters and other philanthropic programs in New York City. Never shy about making conversation with strangers, Rick always took the time to stop and talk with the homeless, always volunteering a mood-lifting smile.
For the Thorpe family, the passing decades have done little to heal the loss of Rick, who died 20 years ago in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center, where he worked as a vice president at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.
But Ray Thorpe, Rick’s father, takes solace that his son’s memory and selfless spirit of helping others live on through a nonprofit organization to help children cope with grief and personal loss as well as a Lafayette College community service endowment created by Rick’s classmates.
“He was a giving person,” says Ray. “He was just self-motivated in everything he did. The guy had a big heart.”
Clearly a family trait, the spirit of giving back drove the elder Thorpe, despite his own grief, with help from his son’s friends, to establish Rick’s Place in 2007. The organization helps grieving children, families, and caregivers in western Massachusetts, where Rick grew up, find comfort and resilience and grow stronger while dealing with the loss of a loved one.
Thinking often about Rick’s daughter and his granddaughter, Alexis, who was just 15 months old in September 2001, Ray says he was inspired to initiate Rick’s Place, which this year is helping 20 families and 31 youths manage their grief and loss through on-site and virtual programming. Hundreds have been served since Rick’s Place was founded.
“And so, in thinking about my own granddaughter, the idea came about of how to create a grieving program for children,” Ray says. “That was the genesis of Rick’s Place. I know it’s something Rick would be proud of and support.
“Kids show up. They’ve lost a brother, or a mom or dad, or an aunt or an uncle, and they’re all quite sad,” he adds. “Well, now they go into a room, and there are 10 kids sitting there, and they’re all sad. But it gives them all an opportunity to be safe and guarded in their conversations or their feelings. And they express themselves.”
Ray says the services of Rick’s Place have expanded over the years to bring programs to children and families who can’t travel and provide professional educational programs for teachers, to raise their awareness of what grieving children experience.
The organization is a reflection of Rick, who came to Lafayette to study business and economics, and participate in sports. He played football, served as a captain of the varsity lacrosse team, and enjoyed making friends, establishing enduring relationships, and quietly performing charitable work off campus and out of the limelight.
“The telling thing is the fact that, because of Rick’s involvement in many activities at Lafayette, it brought out his personality and developed his skills and interests, particularly in nonathletic areas,” Ray says. “Socializing with friends and connecting and empathizing with people of all stations in life, that was important to him.”
Nurtured at Lafayette, Rick’s desire to help others manifested itself in the unshakable bond he developed with the Rev. Tom Hagan, former Catholic chaplain at Lafayette, according to his father and friends. Hagan founded the humanitarian organization Hands Together in 1986 after a group of Lafayette students, including Rick, traveled to Haiti to help the poor there.
“Rick, whenever he encountered the very poor or homeless men and women, he always had a horizontal relationship with them. He never looked down on them but really considered each of them as if they were his lifelong friend,” says Hagan, who first worked with Rick on establishing a soup kitchen at Third Street Alliance for Women & Children in Easton.
“Rick would spend a good deal of his time preparing the hot meal for Saturday,” Hagan recalls.
Rick should be honored and most remembered for being one of the original founders of Hands Together, which serves the very poor of Haiti, he adds. It serves the poorest of the poor in the poorest areas of Haiti, supporting 14 free schools (Haiti has no free public education) and feeding as many as 30,000 people a day.
“What Rick was most passionate about was trying to secure fresh water for the people,” Hagan says. “Back when Rick was a student, no one would have ever imagined that today his dream has become a wonderful reality, with over 750,000 drinking fresh water every day.”
Lara Culley Mullen ’89 and other classmates knew their friend, who could quickly fill a room with laughter and devote that same kind of energy to assist those in need, deserved a memorial befitting of a life well lived.
“And we talked about the things that were important to Rick—Haiti, the soup kitchen—and came up with the idea of setting up this community outreach fund,” she says. “We just started calling people who cared about Rick and what he did here, and they started giving money.”
Appropriately, the memorial fund supports the meal service at Third Street Alliance for Women & Children, where Rick first started his volunteer work with Hagan; it also provides scholarships to students who are interested in leadership training for alternative spring breaks, a standing program at Lafayette that addresses poverty and hunger. Since the fund was established, more than $170,000 has been contributed in Rick’s memory.
“Here you have this state championship football player who is very smart, confident, outgoing, and everything seemed so easy for him. But yet, in his upbringing, something was instilled in him to give back,” says Tom Gillan ’89, who helped establish the memorial fund and remained close friends with Rick after college.
“On a Sunday morning, when we were all sleeping after a long night, he would get up and go downtown and serve food to the homeless,” he says. “That would have been the furthest thing from our minds being 18- and 19-year-olds. At that age, most kids would never think of extending themselves to others like that.
“And, you know, when everybody went to Fort Lauderdale, or wherever they were going for spring break, Rick went down to Haiti with Father Tom (Hagan),” says Gillan, who still remembers his first encounter with his friend at a first-year party.
“He was loud, handsome, a big strapping dude, a talented athlete,” he says. “Everybody circled around him, all the girls wanted to talk to him, and all the guys wanted to get near him and laugh with him. No one could believe he was a freshman. We all asked, ‘Who is that guy?’ He just commanded the whole room.”
“Whether it was at a party, in a class, or just a walk across the Quad, his personality was larger than life,” Mullen says. “He was just fun to be around. He was loud—that gets mentioned a lot—but it was funny loud. And it was, you know, that personality that I think connected him to Father Tom.”
Hagan, who remains close with the Thorpe family, says Rick’s daughter often asks him to tell her about her father.
“He was a very funny person. For instance, he asked me one day if he could borrow my black clerical collar and jacket. I had no idea why he needed it. I thought maybe for some costume party,” he says. “It turned out it was his dress for a formal reunion of his prep school. He dressed as a priest, and he would travel to New York City in my clerical garb. He spent the entire weekend dressed as a priest. Needless to say, he had hundreds of hilarious stories of people thinking he was a young Catholic priest.
“Rick had this wonderful dry sense of humor,” Hagan adds. “He certainly made me laugh. But underneath that, he was extremely sensitive to the needs of others. I still miss him.”
On Sept. 11, Gillan had planned to be with his closest Lafayette friends in Manhattan, likely outdoors somewhere, and toast his friend.
“He’d be there, slapping backs and talking about Rick’s Place and how there’s a great need to help kids who have lost a parent,” he says, taking a pause to collect his thoughts. “He’d be talking up the need to do other community outreach. Rick would probably say, jokingly, ‘Why didn’t we do any of this sooner?’ ”
Mullen shared a similar thought about what Rick would express now.
“I know that he would be flattered by Rick’s Place and the Outreach at Lafayette,” she says. “But at the same time, it would be more like, ‘Hey, yeah, that’s all great. But let’s go do something else, something more.’”
Ray says he’s gratified by the energy and devotion of his son’s friends from Lafayette and beyond in establishing the memorial fund and Rick’s Place.
“It’s confirmation of who Rick was, coming from his friends,” he says. “It’s a positive thing, a lasting memory and part of his legacy.”
The Eric R. Thorpe ’89 Memorial Fund for Community Outreach provides valuable support for Lafayette students engaged in both the Alternative School Break (ASB) leadership training program and in meal service to the Third Street Alliance for Women & Children in Easton.
To support the fund, go to development.lafayette.edu/give and in the comments section type “Eric R. Thorpe ’89 Memorial Fund for Community Outreach.”
Remembered by His Brother, Stan, and Joe Maddon ’76
About a month before Sept. 11, 2001, Neil Levin ’76 shared with his best friend, Joe Maddon ’76, his goal of becoming the governor of New York.
“The one thing I still remember specifically from that conversation with him is that he told me that one day he was going to be the governor of New York,” Maddon says. “And I thought he was on his way.”
Neil was six months into his new position as executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, landlord for the World Trade Center complex and operator of New York City’s major airports, port facilities, bridges, and tunnels, when he lost life in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. His office was on the 68th floor of 1 World Trade Center.
On that day, Maddon, then a coach for the Los Angeles Angels, now the team’s manager, was on Long Island and had planned to meet up with Neil and others, to reminisce and attend a Yankees game.
“I’m waking up in Long Beach and getting in my truck to go to Starbucks. And the radio comes on and talks about a plane crash,” he recalls. “And I’m thinking to myself, man, he’s the boss. He won’t be there that early. And then I found out that wasn’t true. And it was devastating to all of us.
“I hadn’t been in close touch with him for some years, and we were both eager to reconnect and catch up,” he says. “Ever since then, my personal hashtag has been ‘don’t miss it.’”
Maddon doesn’t remember the exact moment he became friends with Neil. It likely developed at South Campus with their mutual friends on the varsity football team. But it was an instant friendship, a bond that would deepen over time.
Before long, Maddon would spend weekends with Neil and his family at their home in Atlantic Beach, N.Y.
Although they came from different backgrounds—Maddon grew up in a working-class neighborhood in West Hazleton, Pa., and Neil on Long Island—the two hit it off as if they were friends from childhood.
“We just always had wonderful conversations when we hung out,” Maddon says. “We discussed our futures, we would discuss girls, professors we liked, we would discuss almost anything and everything.”
Neil placed a high value on his friendships, says his older brother, Stan Levin, who remembers the weekend visits with Maddon and still keeps in touch with him.
Drawn by Lafayette’s tight-knit campus, Neil settled in easily, studied economics, and after graduation earned an MBA in finance from C.W. Post Center of Long Island University Graduate School of Business and then a J.D. from Hofstra University School of Law.
“He liked the whole small Pennsylvania college school thing. We both did,” says Stan, who graduated from Franklin & Marshall College.
“Most of all, Neil valued his friendships,” Stan says. “He was not a regular dean’s list student, but he did OK. For him, it was all about the people he lived with, the people he socialized with, and the people he stayed in contact with his whole life. Joe was one of those people. Joe was his closest friend at graduation. They were in touch all the time.”
The son of a plumber, Maddon was recruited by Lafayette to play football and baseball. Introverted at first, his personality was drawn out by Lafayette’s campus culture of the 1970s.
“There were no hand-held devices; you met people eyeball to eyeball. There was a keg party every Thursday night,” he says.
“And it was a much greater intellectual group than I was normally accustomed to. All of a sudden, I was able to express myself more openly, and it opened opportunities to meet people like Neil, who couldn’t have been more different than me and vice versa,” says Maddon, who also studied economics at Lafayette.
“It opened my mind to other thoughts and in a much more relaxed way. I started to approach each day not worrying about everything,” he says.
Stan says Lafayette’s mind-widening liberal arts curriculum also nurtured his brother’s enduring friendships and prepared him for leadership positions in business, banking, and insurance at the state, national, and international levels in both the public and private sector prior to his Port Authority appointment.
Neil also chaired the New York State Commission on Recovery of Holocaust Victims’ Assets, created by former New York Gov. George Pataki to assist Holocaust victims and their heirs in the recovery of assets wrongfully taken in the Holocaust.
As a young attorney, he served as counsel to the securities subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee. Neil helped draft the Insider Trading Sanctions Act of 1984, which gave the Securities and Exchange Commission an additional weapon in its battle against the insider trading scandals that hit Wall Street in the 1980s.
Neil was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
His life and legacy are reflected in several memorials, among them the Neil D. Levin Graduate Institute of International Relations & Commerce at the State University of New York, and the Neil D. Levin ’76 Public Service Endowment Fund, which supports nonprofit and public service internships for Lafayette students.
Established by Stan, the fund honors the varied and interesting destinations Neil experienced and opens the same kinds of opportunities for Lafayette students, his brother explains.
Asked how his brother would have reacted to the heroics displayed by Port Authority police following the attacks on the World Trade Center, Stan did not hesitate for a moment.
“He would have been very proud of them,” he says. “Neil was not a guy who sat at his desk and put his feet up. He always wanted the best for his people, to always make sure they had what they needed to do their jobs.
“At Port Authority, you’re dealing with things like a tugboat that’s stuck in the Hudson River, a backup on the George Washington Bridge, or which airline gets new gates at JFK,” he notes. “Neil wasn’t a guy who only dealt with the most senior people of a division. Everyone was important to him. He always listened to their needs.”
“Neil was always there to listen to your problems and had a knack for getting right to the point,” Maddon remembers. “He’d always respond with something really well thought out and really sharp. He had this very calm, confident way of communicating.”
“Neil was as honorable as the day is long, a man of consummate integrity,” his brother says. “He occupied the moral high ground. He was charitable, and always concerned about other people’s feelings. A man of his word, compassionate, caring, not ego driven. Doing the right thing and treating people with respect was who he was.
“None of this means that he wasn’t hard and tough when he needed to be, but if he had to be hard and tough on someone, he always left them with dignity.”
Stan had planned a quiet visit to the cemetery on Sept. 11. He’s avoided 9/11 memorial events over the past 20 years and will stay away again this year.
“I’ve learned all I need to learn,” he says. “But I appreciate and respect that there are families who need to be at the site.”
The Angels played the Astros in Houston Sept. 11.
“When I stood up there for the national anthem, I thought about Neil in my meditation and all who were lost and those who still grieve. That was my honor to him,” Maddon says.
“When it comes to relationships with other people, especially those who are close to you, just don’t miss the opportunity to stay in touch,” he says. “Don’t miss the opportunity to be grateful for friendships. Sometimes we miss that.”
The Neil D. Levin ’76 Public Service Endowment Fund supports nonprofit and public service internships for Lafayette students.
Over the years, the fund has supported internships at the U.S. State Department, with U.S. and state senators, with district attorneys, and at a range of nonprofit organizations across the country. This year it is providing internship opportunities for Kelly Sullivan ’22 at the Association to Benefit Children in New York City, and Khaleel Tolen ’23 at A Wider Circle in Silver Spring, Md.
To support the fund, go to development.lafayette.edu/give and in the comments section type “Neil D. Levin ’76 Public Service Endowment Fund.”