Two days after she lost her younger brother, Gary, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Edie Lutnick’s surviving brother, Howard Lutnick, faced with the devastation of his financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald, asked her to start a charity to help the 658 Cantor families who lost their loved ones in the attacks. “The loss of Gary was devastating beyond words, but Howard gave me something larger than my own grief to focus on,” she says.
Lutnick said goodbye to her career as a labor lawyer and began working around the clock as the unpaid co-founder and executive director of the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund. Since then, the fund has raised and distributed more than $180 million to the Cantor families who lost their loved ones on 9/11. The fund then expanded its mission and has raised an additional $75 million, helping hundreds of worthwhile causes throughout the world.
Lutnick, 53, remains fiercely committed to helping the 9/11 families heal emotionally and keep the legacy of their loved ones alive. She continues to work full time for the fund in addition to sitting on the boards of other organizations, including My Good Deed, a charity devoted to making 9/11 a national day of service and remembrance.
A sought-after public speaker, she published her book, An Unbroken Bond: The Untold Story of How the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald Families Faced the Tragedy of 9/11 and Beyond, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 “to set the record straight” about the challenges that the 9/11 community faces in its commitment to remembrance.
“As Jews, we know that forgetting is perilous, and it is important that there be an accurate history of what went on,” she says. “The story of 9/11 is so much more than what happened on that day. It’s about how we behaved as individuals, communities, religions and political figures in its aftermath and what we can learn going forward.”
Always motivated by the belief that “if someone needs help, you help them to the best of your ability,” she credits her parents with instilling her with strong Jewish values. “Every year on my father’s birthday, he would make an anonymous donation to charity,” she recalls. “Philanthropy for the betterment of others and not for accolades was something my brothers and I were brought up with.”
Raised on Long Island, N.Y., Lutnick already knew what it meant to persevere in the face of tragedy. By age 20, she had lost both of her parents to cancer and found herself without a support system. Left to care for her younger brothers, she put herself through school, earning an undergraduate business degree at the University of Rhode Island before completing a joint law and MBA program at Syracuse. “I was taking nine classes each semester and working three jobs while raising my brother Gary,” she recalls. “I found every student loan I could, and I remember sometimes not even having enough money for a can of tuna, but you do what you have to do to survive.”
With the hard-won understanding that “time is precious and every day is a gift,” Lutnick intends to work for the fund until “the phones stop ringing and the families don’t need me anymore. At that point I will keep telling the story of Cantor Fitzgerald, the Relief Fund and the Cantor families.” Her greatest reward? Witnessing the company’s rebirth “with philanthropy as part of its mission and the hundreds of charities that have been started by 9/11 families. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that when you find a mission larger than yourself, it will not only help you heal, but you can accomplish spectacular things.”
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