DescriptionJenny Pachucki, the Oral Historian for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, interviewed Sharon Watts, a close friend and ex-fiance of Captain Patrick Brown of the FDNY who was killed on 911. Sharon talked about their first meeting, the early stages of their relationship, their engagement, the calling off of their engagement, and the nature of their relationship after the engagement ended. Sharon also talked about the day of 9/11 and her writing a book about Patrick.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Sharon Watts
- Jenny Pachucki
Recording LocationsStoryCorps Lower Manhattan Booth
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00:01 My name is Jenny Pachuca. Today is my last day of being 27. So today is July 24th. 2008. We are in the Foley Square storycorps boots, and I'm talking with Sharon who I know through the national September 11th Memorial Museum.
00:20 And my name is Sharon watts and I am 55 and today's date is July 20-26 2008 and I'm also at Foley square and I'm here with Jenny from the national September 11th Memorial Museum. So I wanted to start out I ask you a bit about yourself and what you do and then we can start in your remembrances. Where do you live what I move to Beacon New York and the Year 2005 art a little Fixer-Upper and I've been fixing it up after losing battle, but that's where I am. It's just about an hour and a half north of New York City. Are you from New York originally know I I came to New York when I was 18 to go to art school, and I came out of Pennsylvania and very Suburban atmosphere. And of course I couldn't
01:20 I take it out and I headed right for New York City where I had only been once before and that's just that's where I wanted to go and I stay for 30 years.
01:31 So are you an artist? Yes, I started out as an illustrator and was a fashion illustrator for many years fashion and beauty and that's segwayed into children's books and I wanted to become more of a an artist that sort of worked on my own thing. So that's why I wanted to move north where I could have a bigger place and make a bigger mess. And that's kind of what I'm doing in illustrator, but also I started writing and and doing assemblage art.
02:05 Have you have you already published? Have you published any books? I?
02:11 Well, I I compiled a book about a friend of mine Captain Patrick J Brown of the FDNY soon after 9/11. I started collecting stories about him and I had been journaling myself and
02:28 I decided somebody should do a book about Pat because he was incredibly legendary in the fire department and even more came to life in terms of what an extraordinary person he was but that I didn't know when I knew him but came to light afterwards. So I really started compiling stories and in order to stitch them together. I had to write essays or fill in with journal entry. So that book ended up being available as a print-on-demand book because it was really hard to get out there and find a publisher but in the end I was really happy to have it under my creative control and ended up it came out pretty much the way I wanted it to with no no interference and no funding. Can you tell me how you met Pat where you met Pat but the beginning of the story. Well, I didn't know Pat was a fireman. I actually was barely aware of his existence, but
03:27 We went to the same karate school and
03:31 I would say I was a black belt and he was a brown belt and it's kind of like High School in some ways. You don't really look at the people under you or younger than you or whatever. It wasn't like that. I was just really concentrating on my black belt material and had no time for socializing in there, but I was going for my
03:53 Let's say I must been going for my need on which was my second degree at the karate school. My second degree black belt and part of that promotion was kind of an intensive class where we went to the Blind Association, which our school was affiliated with we taut blind students and Visually Impaired students right down the street on 23rd Street and part of the promotion to the next level was to be blindfolded and take a class with the group of students at the Blind Association. And there were a hard core group of people who assisted in that class and Pat was one of them and there were a few others and very dedicated brown belt students. And so they were leading us around me really they had out make sure we didn't like kick anybody or you know, just I mean the the blind students were fine, but you know the bumbling people that were coming in with the
04:53 I'm fulfilling, you know, we really had to be separated and monitored and I was everybody was very nervous and it's part of our promotion test. So I was just I was aware of Pat at my shoulder. I heard somebody say, you know, you're doing fine Senpai Senpai is a term. That means so senior. It's the egg knowledge and acknowledgement of respect and I was a senior but I didn't know who this person was who he said you're doing fine. You're doing fine. It's Pat Pat Pat. I didn't know who he was. I really didn't know.
05:35 And I felt this presents at my shoulder during the whole class and I felt like I had to sort of Angel looking after me. It was really kind of strange. I felt really like somebody was looking out for me and then couraging me and the class is over. I we left went back to the the main Dojo. I really didn't think much about it until after several days later when during a regular class, we had to stand up and be acknowledged that we had indeed survived our promotions and you know had gotten to the next level and I looked out over the classroom when I saw this brown belt guy. That was I thought his name was Pat and I looked at him and he was just grinning ear-to-ear like, you know, because we were being applied by the class and that was the moment. I knew he was the one that was helping me out the end. So I just I smile back at them.
06:31 And then later on I went and called my girlfriend and said what's the deal?
06:38 And you know it kind of got
06:43 Thank God we hooked up we had a date but things got a little sad out immediately after our first date wear one of his best friends died. And so we did start seeing each other, but it was under a cloud of very intense emotional cloud and it was sort of an indoctrination for me until what it's like to be involved with a fireman especially a fireman Like Pat. So that's another story. Do you have any specific memories of of sort of your early friendship or early dating?
07:19 Well, let's see. We Pat was a creature of habit. And he really you really like going to one or two restaurants religious lady and that's so we always went to see knows which was on 13th Street his friend owned it and we were treated like royalty, of course because you know Pat and that was the second home and
07:45 And we ate out actually that was that was when I became aware of the fact that he had no food in his every not only that he didn't shop and grocery stores never he he would go to the mom-and-pop coffee coffee shop on the corner and get whatever he need did in or in a bodega, whatever he I don't think he ever set foot in a grocery store and what and I didn't know that I just assumed it was a normal person and you know, one point of like was just going D'Agostino's and get some dinner and he looked at me like I've grown to him. Anyways, I got used to eating out and he was picked up the tab, but I tried every once in awhile, but it was something I wasn't used to and we had a lot of fun really it was like fun to have a boyfriend and fun fun to eat out and Sunday.
08:45 Injustice social in the nose different for me because I was really sort of a homebody and didn't really date a whole lot. So so did your relationship progressed or did OE progressed let's say after our first date which was a dinner date and he let me pick that restaurant. I picked to Thai restaurant and
09:08 It wasn't like a fun first date. It was he was very it was very somber I became aware that this isn't just a happy-go-lucky Guy. This is a serious man and I wasn't used to being like that and in the first conversation and I just afterwards I felt well, he's really nice but he's so serious. I really don't know if we even have anything in common.
09:38 And after that date, he called me up a few days later and told me that his
09:49 Sort of like a protege. It was a very very close friend of his a young guy who worked in rest a rescue company of I believe it was rescued for his name is Pete McLaughlin. He died in a fire. This is 3 days after our first date and Pat was devastated and but he didn't let on to me because he didn't I mean I didn't know at all and he basically asked me to tell our karate school instructor that he wouldn't being he wouldn't be a class for a few days because he was taking care of Pete's family and being involved with that and at that point in my life, I never been to a funeral I had grandparents that lived a very long time. I was in my mid-forties and I still had all my grandparents and I have never been to a funeral.
10:41 And I'm not an Earth Mother type and I really was uncomfortable. I didn't know how to comfort him. I've I really didn't know.
10:51 Do you know how to be with him? Especially after only one date and
10:58 And then at the end of the week, he called me again and asked me out to dinner and I was thinking to really want to be in a public place after after what happened. And I said why don't you come over to my house and I'm just cooking whatever and then he drove over to Brooklyn and met my cats and we had dinner and we really just sat down on the sofa and just talked and talked and talked and at that point the emotion came to the surface of what he had been through that week.
11:32 And we just talked and talked and I just found out that that's why I wanted to be there for him and
11:41 And it was a strange beginning to a relationship is very intense. I think it brought a certain intensity to the rest of the relationship in the sense that things did speed up maybe you know of a bit and
11:57 But I sort of felt like we both wanted to be in in that place of intensity or we needed to be and
12:07 So we we became you know, very close in a short. Of time and got to know each other.
12:16 Pretty pretty well, what are some of the things that you did together as a couple?
12:22 Well, we as I said we ate out when we weren't Italian we're eating sushi. We went to Pat had his mother was very Musical and Pat like Broadway shows and when we finally had that normal for a spade and found out what our likes and dislikes were in that kind of thing that we didn't discover, you know, initially. I was actually thrilled I was we were talking about culture and art and whatever and we had so much in common, and I said I will but it's like his meds and he goes kismat. He's or I have that CD on my CD player at home. Now. Kismat is an old fashioned 1950s.
13:15 Broadway musical that our parents had a my mother had that I can remember the album cover and the fact that he said he had it on his player. I'm like nuns Camp. So I went home with him. That was the first time I have been to his apartment and and it was it was there. It was a CD player and it just cracks me up because what you know, he look like he was right out of Central Casting you don't like the square-jawed firefighter, you know, Kirk Russell Lee looking, you know, macho guy by any hospice old fashioned Broadway musical there and I didn't ask him to play for it was it was meant to be at that point. We we did go to Broadway Theater musical. I took him to see you Old Man River for his birthday. He took me to see I don't know a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
14:14 It was it was fun. I thought it was really a hoot to have, you know, a boyfriend that likes me.
14:24 Because I knew I knew the cliche involved in this area type was out there and he just didn't care and I didn't either.
14:34 Did he talk about his work that he talked about? I don't know some of the emotions that go into firefighting and well he certainly did not let on to what he was or who he was in the fire department. I had no clue how how decorated he was or how highly respected he was are what kind of trauma he he was involved in on a really regular basis.
15:03 And so when he did share some stories with me, they were never you know, the depravado kind of lay stories with Moe. We pulled this person out in that person out. He I think he he needed to share about the people that he couldn't save. I think he needed to have a place where he could talk about. Never forget the first story. He told me was he worked in Harlem at that time and at the Harlem Elton
15:34 And he was describing a fire where he couldn't save.
15:39 I found afterwards a little boy that was just curled up in a in a room or under the bed or something and he had his hand was clutched around something and Pat was telling me the story and I I just didn't know what this was leading to like. What was the boy holding and when he went went at said what what it was a boy was holding that made made such an impression on that because this is one of the few stories he did share with me. It was an orange and it's just something about that image of a little boy just dying with with an orange in his grasp.
16:16 Definitely stuck with Pat and then he passed it along to me and then else I'm telling you so clearly it's stuck with me to heat.
16:24 Those were the details that he couldn't shake that didn't make the newspapers and that's really what he had to live with.
16:32 On a continual basis because it came with a job.
16:38 How did you feel being even this close relationship with somebody who is constantly putting themselves in danger?
16:46 You know, I
16:48 Once I don't know why I was just so positive that he was Superman. I just didn't think anything would ever happen to him and there were a lot of deaths that you're they did. You know, I was dating him when we were engaged there was just a string of that winter. There was a string of fatalities in the department and he was going off to the funerals and come.
17:13 And you would think I guess you would think that I would be worried about him and I wasn't I just had it in my head that he just he would get through anything that he was just above all of us that he was I don't know just somehow.
17:32 Not Superman, but just had a gift I and I just thought no, he's not going to be taken out of this new. He's just too good. He's too he's here for a reason and he's not going to make a mistake and I that was my comfort. I just had there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to be taken out and a fire and it turned out that's not what took him out, but
18:00 I really thought he was going to be a grumpy old man until his I really just thought he was going to be some old grumpy guy mad. Of course. I thought I'd be there in during it. So you see you mentioned that you became engaged at some point. Yes. He well we had talked seriously about being together. I mean, I don't know how I jumped into Becky are but it did.
18:32 He would say it was Valentine's Day the day after because he always he always worked on holidays to give guys the days off with their family. So of course alentines day rolls around and he didn't ask me out for the next day which was the 15th, and we went to a Mexican restaurant on the on in the East Village.
18:57 And just you know, just having a very meal of enchiladas and he pulled out his dog tags and asked me to marry him and
19:11 I let the dog tags or temporary symbol until we got a ring and I knew they meant the world to him. They were his dog tags from Vietnam.
19:24 And from that moment on we were engaged and
19:30 I never got the ring, but I still have the doctor and they mean so much to me. I wear them just rarely on special occasions, and he never asked for them back after we had broken up and I had offered if there was anything personal that he wanted back and he didn't ask for them. And I was glad that he didn't because he and I mean a lot to me.
19:56 So what why did you decide not to get married?
20:01 Well, that's a tough one that took me awhile to figure out but all of a sudden Pat it seemed all of a sudden I saw the warning signs, but he
20:15 I changed his mind is not really and that's the short version but it was like he couldn't go through with it. I had the sense that a wall went up where he he tried so hard and I think he would have had other serious relationships before me. I'm sure you did and I think he was familiar with a wall that would just come up. They would prevent him from really looking for happiness in a committed relationship that might have been because of the job at might have been for psychological reasons, but I know cuz he warned me about the wall. He just warned me it would happen and I didn't believe him and it happened and and so the relationship came to a halt and
21:06 No after 9 months and
21:10 It was a really hard. Where I tried to make sense of it because we he couldn't talk about it. He was in he was in more pain than I was and I was in a lot of pain, but it was clear. He couldn't talk and
21:25 After a few years we reconnected.
21:30 And eventually we did start seeing each other again right before the Y2K or that right before the Millennium thing. I remember was that year because and it was different we were seeing each other and it wasn't you for if it wasn't with a promise of Happily Ever After ring, but it was in a way it was there was a comfort of the familiarity familiarity and we had a history and we did talk to each other more he didn't
22:04 There was a comfort level that was very strange. But clearly it didn't have any sort of.
22:12 Indications that it was going to turn into what the initial promise had been when he first gave me his dog tags and I accepted that I decided I was happy just to have him back in my life and that also I was going to proceed with my life. And so I moved out and we talked about having him visit me and he never did but we we did reconnect right before 9/11 with a phone call and I'm thankful for that because it happened a week before.
22:48 A week before that Tuesday. I saw him on the street and he pulled out the photo and cuz I'm going to be in yoga journal. He was on his way to yoga class is jogging and so proud he's going to be in yoga journal. I guess I had interviewed him couple weeks before and he got the proof back and
23:08 And so a week later. I called him well in a few days later. I called him on that Friday before that Tuesday, and we talked for about an hour and it was really good to just reconnect again, because we hadn't spoken all all summer. Well after I had moved he had sort of shut down and I was busy and and it was really good to have that connecting phone call because I said listen them coming in on Tuesday to vote. Do you want to go out to dinner? And he said I can't I have to work.
23:36 Where were you on 9/11 for you upstate or did you make it into town? I was Upstate. I was just leaving my house right when the Today Show showed the first story the breaking story of.
23:51 What was happening and I I was just on automatic pilot. I thought small plane no catastrophe but not not what it ended up being and I laughed I shut the door. I got in the car. I'm driving down and I turned on the radio and there was there was nothing to indicate anything that happened out of the ordinary on on the radio station and I find that strange but then all of a sudden the news broke through that and this was a 10-minute ride going down to the train to the town where I would park and catch the train and during that ride. It went from easy listening music to as many as eight planes in the skies all targeting different places and and I was still on autopilot. I don't know what I was thinking and except that he would be there and I was going into the City and and I got on the train and
24:45 Not everybody and seemed to know what was going on and the conductor said that there had been an incident but he had no instructions not to continue into the station. But when we got to the next train station, I left I left the train and I headed back on the next train back to my car and got in my car and sped up the road 90 this winding beautifully sun-dappled Road, and I'm just assuming and I run into my house so I can turn on the TV at 10:28. And at that point, I see the North Tower come down and that was his Tower. I didn't know that at the time but I I found it. I knew it. I knew it in my gut as I watch the tower come down I have I just had this.
25:32 She don't like or shuttered. It wasn't just that I was seeing a horrific thing. It was just I knew I knew I was watching him die.
25:40 And I called him up and told him I just saw the tower come down and
25:46 And I was
25:49 Kind of hysterical and then I went and curled up in a fetal position on the sofa and then at some point I got up again and I called him back and I said, I know you're okay. Just call me. Let me know that.
26:02 But I think I knew I think I knew and
26:06 And then I found out the next day. I pretty much definitively. I called a friend of his who was a newspaper reporter and he'd keep me up pretty much. Let me know.
26:19 So looking back and knowing that you actually saw you did see the tower go down. Is that comforting to you too have been witness to that or do you want to have it? Oh, I don't avoid things I can say, but I wish I hadn't.
26:35 It wasn't
26:38 I don't know the comforting is the right word, but I wanted all information. And so I think it was important that I saw it in retrospect. I know it was important that I saw it.
26:53 But at the time if you're giving me a choice, I'm sure I would have covered my eyes ever horror chosen not to.
27:01 But I asked you I try not to shy away from things that are not pleasant because I feel like that's such a lame word, but
27:09 I think they contribute to who we are and to witness something like that.
27:16 Are we really I felt like almost molecularly changed. I'm sure I'm not the only person
27:25 Were you involved in any of his memorial services or any of the
27:32 Yes, he had one of the big Memorial services at St. Patrick's big to the extensive, you know, just
27:44 I don't even know how many ten thousands of people and luckily I was sort of on the periphery of of the family and and was invited to share of Van to go down, Maryland.
27:57 It's ya it was huge. I felt like I was sort of sleepwalking through it and
28:10 That the memory of that day isn't really a strong with me. I just felt like I was a robot walking through it. Really.
28:19 His remains have been found yet at that point. So it was an empty coffin and it was really all all the pageantry. But you know if it was important, but it that wasn't Pat Toomey, you know, it would have been that all of the
28:35 You know what was important to me where the eulogies given by people that knew him and and they were amazing but everything else they huge pageantry. I felt certain he deserved it. I mean, but it wasn't the path that I knew and
28:56 You know, it was just I was a participant and I certainly
29:03 Had to be there, but when I look back on that time, I don't really go back to.
29:11 That that's not the first time it comes up in in my memory which memories are meaningful.
29:18 Concerning the ritual or ceremony of his well, we when they did find his remains.
29:27 In mid-December, we were invited back to have a second memorial service up at Frank Campbell's Memorial.
29:35 Holmes and his brother have had have been cremated and according to his wishes and his brother.
29:43 I knew that Pat wanted to be sort of sprinkled in Central Park and so he invited about 20 people family members and friends and we went up there one on the last day of December. I think it was and it was a full moon and absolutely beautiful clear night. And we all eat it was almost like a Chinese food bag. I don't know what it was but he had his paper bag and he went down the line and this is my past brother and we all scooped out his ashes and a handful of his ashes and then somebody said that we all said God bless Patty Brown, which was kind of the rallying point to go to fling his ashes.
30:30 In the park, you know over the skyline wherever, you know, it was close to the spot that he hadn't had wanted and and that was very communal. It was it was nice.
30:46 Strange, but the
30:50 I'm really want to talk about your book and in the process of putting it together, and I have a lot of questions about your book. So I'm not really sure where it where when did it occur to you that this is something you wanted to do.
31:07 Probably within several months after after the events of 9/11.
31:15 I was trapped Upstate more less. I mean I did come down to the city when they had blockaded off areas and and managed to get into places that normally if you weren't a neighbor a resident you weren't allowed down there, but pretty much I was Upstate and I only had the computer to find out what was going on and I started of course collecting the media articles about Pat and there were there were a lot written about about him specifically, especially in the Daily News. And so I I thought that story needs to be told
31:54 Then I sort of put it out there to for instance, you know, one of the reporters for the Daily News and a couple other I know people people that were biographers who I respected or or
32:11 Journalist jail people that do this for a living and I would like to have to somebody has to do pet story, you know and
32:21 This went on for maybe a couple of years. I didn't you know, I didn't bother people about it, but I did put it out there and it just nobody was doing it. And finally there was a woman writer who I got in touch with just threw a series of coincidences, which I now I know what coincidences heart was meant to be she suggested that she and I do a compilation of stories about Pat and I think she meant, you know, I do the legwork and she does the the writing. I don't know what you meant. All I know is I'm like, yeah, so I started doing another proposal letter to send out an email blast and I'm running it by her for editing and I'm I'm getting very excited about having a project having it be done not having
33:14 Still having a professional do it and and plus thing part of it, which was exciting to me. It kept me involved and
33:22 And so, you know, we put the email blast out to people and both of our contact information on it. Like just trying to collect stories about bad and all of a sudden now, she's got a conflict and she can't do it and the word is out and I felt like I can't shove this back in the gate. It's out and I thought maybe I can do it. You know, I'm a good collector. I I am I printed out no all kinds of Articles and I save things and I'm an archivist almost by I used to have scrapbooks of The Beatles and Steve McQueen. I mean, I I I'm a collector. I'm an archivist. I I just have a strong sense of memory and and commemorating and remembering things are important in people who are important and
34:11 And I kind of thought you know, maybe I can do this so.
34:15 I started I started approaching people and asking for written essays or asking for time with them where I could tape record their memories of Pat and it took a long time and I was just really One Foot In Front of the other. I had a lot of setbacks. I had a lot of enthusiasm from odd places. It was it was very exciting. I mean it was scary, but it was exciting because you never really knew where it was going to lead and people would turn up that I just at the whole reason I even started doing this was because I read I mean just not just because I thought that deserved it but it became clear to me from a tribute site in Grand Central Station that somebody had posted a picture of him and it said New York City loves Pat Brown and it's just a
35:10 A little poster with his picture on it and it got added to an attitude and attitude during the course of the year 2002 and whenever I would come out of the train and see this in Grand Central like who are these people in the other people from his childhood there people from yoga? I mean all these people I mean the whole board was mostly you know, I'm missing board and and it was a course they were too heartbreaking but hats and had a life his poster had a life and it was added to every time I came into the station. Somebody knew had added something to it and it just was at you know, it was like a crazy quilt of of memories in then notes to him. I wanted to find all those people I wanted to get their stories and
35:57 And I sort of started to Google and asking and and following leads and I turned up a lot of those people. I turned up people. I had no idea existed and got their stories and they were even more amazing than I could have imagined and they help me they help me heal. They help me learn about a man that I loved and I knew from my own perspective, but I had no idea how he impacted so many other people and I learned and it was this great.
36:32 Almost like a relief like this to just know we all loved him and none of us knew that the other six. Just talking about women, but just he just had this gift of connecting with people one-on-one and
36:48 And we were all special to him and we knew it and for him to not be around and recognize that he had such a gift of connection that
37:01 I felt really.
37:04 Honored that I could be part of finding their stories and at the same time that they helped me heal. I could sort of rise above it and see who he was in a way that I couldn't see in our own personal relationship and and that gave me a lot of Peace because
37:24 I I learned how incredibly special person he was and you know, the pain that I come in the relationship really was erased.
37:37 It's it's alright, it's an unfair question. But when when somebody says Pat Brown what it what are your your most deer like your instinctive like Vision or memories when you hear his name?
37:53 Coming into his apartment and seeing all of his Karate gear and his running gear and all his stuff just hanging off the grand piano hanging off the bike hanging off the shower curtain rods hanging off the back of the leather sofa and then he'd have all his self-help book spread all over the the floor in the bathroom. And you know The Road Less Traveled, you know it like everything just spread out, you know.
38:18 Oh that was his world in a all on a grape and like a bright red wall to wall carpet. That was like kind of disgusted. He finally removed it. But in a Mickey Mouse phone, it was just going into his world joining his world. It was always always always seductive been fun. And I really I really miss that.
38:43 Grandma said of time but is there any last anything that we didn't get to that you really wanted to say?
38:52 No, I don't think so.
38:54 I just wish I could edit myself. No, no, no.
39:00 No, I just I can't think of anything really think it's a good place to stop. This is really excellent. Good.