- Age: 37
- Employer: FDNY
- Place of death: Unknown
- Community: North Bellmore
- County: Nassau
About Gary R. Box
This profile was originally published in 2010
While in training with the fire department, when everyone had to keep his hair cut short, Gary Box brought in his clippers and offered up his services.
"He told them he used to clean people up for a mortician," his wife, Kathleen Box, recalled with a laugh. "He just figured everyone would know he was joking."
But people took him seriously, so Gary played along, giving out haircuts even though he had no experience.
He got better at the haircuts and perfected his act, wearing a teal-colored women's smock in the firehouse and draping a sheet over his subjects.
When Gary returned from vacation last summer, his friends at work surprised him with a barber's chair.
That was Gary, his family and friends said, always joking, having a laugh and entertaining people with his antics.
"He would always try to do something to make the day fun, always trying to make people laugh," his wife said. "He would plot on his days off. He would plot phone calls to make or things to say."
A fellow Squad 1 firefighter, Bill Spiess, said, "If you were going to work and you knew Gary was going to be there, you knew you were going to smile."
Gary Box, 37, joined the New York Fire Department about five years ago and spent just more than a year with Squad 1 in Park Slope.
Sitting in their living room with Gary's uncle, Robert Box, and his cousin, Dana Pettit, last week, his wife laughed with them as they reminisced about Gary's stories.
His uncle recalled how Gary might hike his shorts up to his chest and impersonate Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Pettit said he spent hours finding the right words for a eulogy to give at a memorial service held Oct. 10, 2001. But sitting in the church the day of the service, Pettit said he began to feel ill and couldn't bring himself to approach the lectern.
"I was imagining Gary sitting next to me with his smirk, saying I wimped out," Pettit said.
His eulogy described Gary Box as the one person he knew who "demonstrated such consistent focus of ideals in his commitment to his family, his friends, his job and the challenges that he faced in his day-to-day life."
Gary Box spent his free time playing with his two children or fixing up his family's North Bellmore home.
He would come home from work with little toys he picked up for Dalton, 5, and Brigette, who is almost 3. He had the patience to spend hours at a time constructing train tracks or Legos with his kids.
"He was like a little kid himself, and he couldn't wait to play with the things he bought," his wife said.
He had some trademark lines he used with family and friends. He called other guys "George," and they would call him "George" in return.
His favorite adjective to describe a spread of food was "festive." He would walk into a bakery and say, "Oh, that's a festive piece right there," Pettit said.
Box grew up in Wantagh, where he finished high school a year early. He opted for work rather than college, getting jobs repairing cars and installing ceramic tile until he joined the fire department.
"He had long arms and big, strong hands, hard-working hands that were always calloused," his wife said.
In the days after Sept. 11, a red rose bloomed on a bush Gary Box gave his wife for her birthday. He is sending her a sign, she said.
"I feel like he's with me, like he's patting my shoulders. I miss him terribly." — Ann L. Kim
This profile was originally published in 2001/2002
The lives of both Judson Box and Erik Troelsen were changed by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. A photograph brought them together.
The pair, one a retired Town of Hempstead highway maintenance foreman, and the other a Danish engineer, met last week for the first time onstage at a Manhattan fundraiser for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, when Box fervently thanked the man who had brought his family a measure of peace.
Troelsen, now 42 and living in Switzerland, posted photographs last fall on the museum's online archive of 9/11 images, videos and stories. One showed a firefighter in full gear striding through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel ahead of his traffic-stalled fire truck shortly after the attacks.
When Box's wife, Helen, saw the photograph online, they found it was the only known image of Box's son Gary on the day he and 11 others from his Brooklyn firehouse lost their lives in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
The remains of the 37-year-old married father of two from North Bellmore were never identified.
"Just having that picture, it gives you a little peace, a piece of the puzzle, and just being able to see him on that day is beyond words," Box, 67, said yesterday in an interview from Weirsdale, Fla. where the Wantagh native moved in 2003 to breed horses.
Without finding the remains, "whether you are doing it consciously or unconsciously, you're searching," he said.
Box said he's pored over the photo with a magnifying lens, "trying to look into my son's eyes, just trying to see. One thing I can tell you, there was no fear in his eyes. He was focused on what he was doing; he was looking straight ahead going through that tunnel."
His ex-wife, Hilary Clarke, Gary's mother, lives in Colorado and also attended the fundraiser with their daughter Christine and other family members.
Troelsen, chief technical officer for two small companies, also had a story to tell. In an interview last year, he recounted how on the evening of Sept. 10, 2001, he dined with two visiting Danish friends at Windows on the World, located high in the doomed North Tower. Troelsen learned of the events unfolding at the center while stuck in traffic in the tunnel the next day. He took the photo of the passing firefighters through the windshield of his car.
In the attacks' aftermath, he said, life's purpose became clearer. He forgot to call his then-girlfriend to say he was safe, instead calling his friend Jette, who would become his wife and mother of his two children. And he soon changed jobs.
"Suddenly you realize you either do the things that make you happy, or you do them just because you're doing them," he said.
Troelsen was rather embarrassed at the attention on stage, he said, but was happy he could give the Box family some relief. "While I don't feel I deserve any recognition, it feels nice to be part of that event."
As for 9/11 itself, he said, "It'll always be part of my life, whether I want it or not."
Box, who didn't know he'd meet Troelsen until a few hours before the fundraiser, had originally declined the invitation to speak because he's uncomfortable with public speaking.
But he changed his mind: When he was stopped at a Florida intersection to make way for a wailing fire truck, he saw it bore the same squad number as his son's unit. A museum official asked why he'd decided to accept. "I told him that story and said that my son wanted me to do it," he said. "I don't believe in coincidences." — Carol PolskyView Gary R. Box's guestbook