Counselor Without Portfolio – A Tribute to Michael J. Armstrong

Four years ago, my friend, DC Roe, sent out a request to the blog-o-sphere. He wanted to know if people would be interested in writing tributes honoring the victims of 9/11.

To his great surprise, an overwhelming number of people said yes. Project 2,996 was born.

From the Project 2,996 website:

On September 11, 2001 almost 3,000 of the world’s citizens were brutally, and publicly, murdered. We all cried, and we all swore that we’d never forget. But a few years later I realized that I knew nothing about those people who were doing nothing more than living their lives. In 2006 I asked other bloggers if they thought it would be a good idea to take the time to learn about the victims and try to keep their individual memories alive. The response I got was overwhelming. And Project 2,996 is the result.

Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, whatever you may think of what has happened in the years since 9/11, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to learn about just one victim.

I too wrote a tribute to one of the fallen, but I published it on my old self-hosted blog, which is now defunct. I’d like to re-post the tribute here in the hopes that it permanently stays on the Internet for all to read and remember.


Nine years ago today, America was attacked.

At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, the first plane smashed into the North World Trade Center Tower – lives were snuffed out, the world went dark for many. Cantor Fitzgerald, a global financial services provider company, located on floors 101 – 105th, was destroyed: 658 out of 1,000 employees were never seen again.

One of those employees was Mr. Michael J. Armstrong, age 34.

Michael J. Armstrong had an uncanny way of looking people deep in the eyes and telling them things that stuck with them, that sometimes changed their lives.

There was the confused, rambling Grateful Dead fan he met on a train in 1993, who was hooked on drugs and on the run from his parents.

The young man wrote Mr. Armstrong a letter shortly after their meeting that Mr. Armstrong’s family found in a drawer when they cleaned out his Upper East Side apartment after Sept. 11.

“After talking to you,” the young man wrote, “I’ve worked everything out with my parents and will be returning to work for them and continuing a drug-free life. I have positive goals but I almost threw them away. I just want to thank you for helping me.”

There was the man from the Upper East Side who served time in prison. When he got out, he was shunned by most people; Mr. Armstrong went out of his way to talk to him, to make him feel welcome.

“Since Sept. 11, we’ve realized what a great impact he’s had on people’s lives,” said Catherine M. Nolan, whom Mr. Armstrong, 34, a vice president of sales at Cantor Fitzgerald, was to marry on Oct. 6.

Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on February 3, 2002.

Armstrong was vice president of sales for Cantor Fitzgerald. He was busy doing his job, minding his own business working on one of the 101 – 105th Cantor Fitzgerald floors of the north tower. Cantor Fitzgerald was directly hit when the plane crashed through. Cantor Fitzgerald was one of the first companies to be completely destroyed.

From the Cantor Fitzgerald tribute website:

On the morning of September 11th, we lost more than a team. We lost family. We mourn the losses of our siblings, our best friends, and our partners. We cannot imagine work or life without them nor their many unique qualities and characteristics. They have enriched our lives immeasurably, and in us, their spirits shall live on.

Cantor Fitzgerald’s former New York office, on the 101st-105th floors of One World Trade Center, lost 658 employees, or about two-thirds of its workforce, in the September 11, 2001 attacks, considerably more than any other company.

Armstrong’s life was just beginning. He was engaged to be married to Catherine. His life ended prematurely at 8:46 a.m., September 11, 2001.

From Michael Armstrong’s website:

Michael J. Armstrong’s Biography
(August 31, 1967–September 11, 2001)

He was hungry early on. Somewhere on a home-movie reel from 1969 a chubby-legged toddler still waddles about wearing an oversized bib, a small foreshadowing of an insatiable appetite that would not be satisfied by food alone. Ten years later he had become the master of restraint, often making a chocolate bar last a whole week. With Mike, the things he loved in life were always savored. A native New Yorker, he loved his city with a passion. He loved people. He loved good food. He loved sharing good food. He loved a long talk that would carry into the early hours of the next day. He loved defending an underdog. He loved a good dig. He loved a good comeback. He loved a big crowd. He loved sports. He loved the excitement that hangs in the air before a big game. He loved loyalty. He loved the loyalty of a good friend. He loved. He loved as well as anyone can love.

Circumstances did not beckon him to find himself until the end of his sophomore year at Xavier High School in lower Manhattan, a school his older brother had graduated from two years before. Mike was not happy there, and his poor grades reflected it. In the spring he was asked to find another school, and in the fall, a season that usually brings about wilting, he began to flourish. He started his junior year at Loyola High School, a small school in the heart of Yorkville. Loyola was halfway through administering a high school education to many of Mike’s elementary school friends. The prodigal son had come home, home to a school that would have welcomed him with a partial scholarship two years before but was now understandably tentative about taking a risk on a kid who no longer showed much promise on paper. He put his best foot forward, however, and it didn’t take him long to show everyone that he was well worth the effort. While never a straight-A student, he did well at Loyola. He cared, not merely about the difference he could make for himself but the difference he could make for others. His quintessential talents lay far deeper than getting respectable grades. His true gifts, the ones that flowed from him so effortlessly, were much more far reaching. He was wonderful with people. He was a natural public servant, and his classmates soon saw it. At the end of his junior year, his first year at Loyola, he was elected president of the student body. And so began a love affair that would see him well in to adulthood. He worked tirelessly for Loyola for the next seventeen years of his life. Always eager to see old friends and make new ones, he would be at Loyola fundraisers with bells on.

After graduating from Loyola, he attended Syracuse University in upstate New York, but again the fit wasn’t right. After a year, he came back to his beloved New York City, but not without having cemented several more lifelong friendships at Syracuse, for embracing people from all walks of life always came naturally. It was on to Fordham University in the Bronx, and again, a perfect match. While at Fordham, he acquired the nickname Posse, or Poss for short. While rumors abound regarding the origin of the name, most seem to believe it is derived from the popular slang word for group, which, since he always had large numbers with him, seems to be a legitimate theory. Again, the friendships made at Fordham were of soul-piercing quality. Many of them got stronger after graduation. New ones were born at alumni events. As a fellow Fordham alumnus twenty years Mike’s senior put it best, “I knew we would be friends for the rest of our lives. We were suffering from the same disease. We both loved Fordham.” With Mike, there were no boundaries when it came to forging a new alliance—not age, not race, not religion. A superb judge of character, he had a way of cutting straight through to the essence of what really mattered in an individual. Having been the recipient of second chances himself, he was quick to give someone the benefit of the doubt. He knew what it was like to stumble, yet he repeatedly found his way. He was eager to see others do the same. He was wonderfully human.

His sweet disposition and hardworking nature paved the way for many progressions throughout his eleven years in the working world. He left his first job as a credit analyst with the factoring firm Milberg Factors in August 1992 to join the Office of Management and Budget for the City of New York, where he worked as a budget analyst for over four years under David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani while he put himself through graduate school at night. His newly acquired master’s degree and his appetite for the financial world led him to his role as director of investor relations at The Bond Buyer, a publication for the municipal bond industry, before he joined Cantor Fitzgerald in 1999. He became a vice president of electronic trading at Cantor, where his love and admiration for his colleagues ran deep.

The past, and Mike, is forever a part of us. Somewhere on a home-movie reel from 1969 a toddler still walks. Only now, when we view him, we know how steady and sure those steps became. We know what paths those feet took. We know the difference he made to all of us.

Michael J. Armstrong is survived by his fiancée, his family, and innumerable friends.

One of the few people in this world who would give the shirt off of his back for anyone. Loved by many. We miss him. Andrew Lindner, friend

Mr. Armstrong, we will never forget you.

UPDATED SEPTEMBER 11, 2011: Project 2,996 has a Facebook page.