Working to keep Peter Ortale’s memory alive forever

When Northwood native Peter Ortale was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, his family was not alone.

Ortale’s friends, acquaintances and colleagues honored his life in various ways.

“The outpouring of support and the letters that were written were really unbelievable when you reflect back on it,” said his sister, Mary Malitas. “People said the nicest things about Peter. It was really quite a tribute.”

Peter Keith Ortale grew up on the 4900 block of Castor Ave. and attended St. Martin of Tours, Penn Charter and Duke University, where he graduated in 1987 with a political science degree and was a three-year co-captain and All-American lacrosse player.

In 1989, he settled in New York and joined the firm Tullet & Tokyo. He worked there 10 years.

At the time of his death, at age 37, he was working for Euro Brokers on the 84th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower in New York.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, a Tuesday, he was working when a hijacked American Airlines plane crashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. between the 93rd and 99th floors.

Ortale called his wife and mother, both named Mary, to say that he was OK and would be leaving his building. But nobody heard from him again.

A second hijacked United Airlines plane crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. between the 77th and 85th floors.

The terrorist attacks were not over.

A little later that day, an American Airlines plane crashed into the Pentagon and a United plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Somerset County after passengers and crew fought with hijackers.

In all, almost 3,000 people died, not including the hijackers. More than 2,750 of the deaths occurred at the World Trade Center.

Ten years later, this past Sunday, events were held at all three locations to mark that terrible day.

“It’s almost like reliving it again,” Mary Malitas said.

Ortale was married in May 2000 and lived in the SoHo section of Manhattan.

In addition to his wife, mother and sister, he was survived by sisters Julie and Cathy Grimes, brother Gil and seven nieces and nephews. His mother has since passed away.

Family members traveled to New York in the days following the attacks. In November of that year, they held a memorial service for their loved one at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, and 1,000 people attended.

Ortale was among 61 employees and friends of Euro Brokers who died that day. Since then, Ortale has been inducted into the Pennsylvania Lacrosse Association Hall of Fame.

Each Thanksgiving, his family continues a tradition by playing football.

“We talk about Peter every single Thanksgiving game,” Malitas said.

At Duke, magnolia trees were planted for him and five other alums who died in the attacks. There’s also been a lacrosse scholarship established in his memory.

Penn Charter also hosts a memorial lacrosse game and has started a scholarship in his name. The scholarship is partially funded by an annual 5k Run for Peace. The fifth annual run and 1-mile family fun walk will take place Saturday morning on the campus of the East Falls school. A concert will follow.

The events are held in memory of Ortale and another Penn Charter alumnus, Kenny Caldwell, who died in the terrorist attacks.

“We’re very close with Elsie and her family,” Malitas said, referring to Kenny Caldwell’s mom.

Last Friday, Ortale’s family traveled to New York’s Bailey Pub and Brasserie for a benefit for the scholarship funds. There were live and silent auctions for original art. Music was provided by Quaker’s Dozen, a Penn Charter a cappella group.

On Sunday, the family was back in New York for the official 10-year anniversary events, which included the unveiling of the National September 11 Memorial.

The memorial, where the towers once stood, features waterfalls and two giant reflecting pools. It honors all the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, along with the six people killed in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Each victim’s name is inscribed in bronze panels on the edges of the pools.

“It looks beautiful,” Malitas said.

The trips enabled Ortale’s family to meet up with others mourning 10 years without their loved ones.

“We’ve come to know and love these people bonded by tragedy,” Malitas said. ••

Donations to the Peter K. Ortale Scholarship Fund can be sent to William Penn Charter School, 3000 W. Schoolhouse Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19144.

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com