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U.S. News
Lisa Jefferson: Verizon operator who talked to Todd Beamer

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

This week, Lisa D. Jefferson will officially become a hero, even though she still doesn't think of herself that way.

In her own way, Lisa Jefferson has played a major part in an American slogan. While talking compassionately with United Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer last Sept. 11, the Verizon supervisor overheard him end the conversation by saying to fellow passengers "Let's Roll" -- the apparent signal to begin their attempt to take control of the hijacked airliner.

The Verizon Airfone operator was the last person to talk to United Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer before he and other passengers rushed the cockpit to try to take the plane back from hijackers. She listened as he talked about his family, his fears and his faith, and she prayed the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm with him.

Jefferson has been invited to New York to receive an award from the American Bible Association as part of a tribute to past and present heroes.

The 44-year-old mother of two is overwhelmed by the attention she still is getting a year after that fateful conversation. "At that moment, believe me, I was not thinking that if I did this I would be a hero later or be on TV," she said. "I just did what I had to do. I was just doing my job."

Jefferson is a customer service supervisor for Verizon Airfone at the switchboard hub in Chicago, where she has worked for 18 years.

She still continuously goes over those 13 minutes on the phone with Beamer, both when she is alone and when she is asked to by reporters

"When I constantly replay that call over in my mind, it creates emotional stress," Jefferson said this week. "Yes, I do cry a lot."

The real impact struck home about a week after the tragedy when the Chicago Sun Times ran photographs of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. It was the first time, she said, that she was able to put a face to the person with whom she developed such an intense, profound relationship in such a short time.

When she saw the picture, Jefferson said she became ill, unable to keep her food down, and she had to take two days off from work.

The whole experience has drawn her closer to God. She always has been a praying woman. Now she prays even harder.

"That's why I think I was put in this situation to be the messenger for the Beamer family that day," Jefferson said. "I just feel that I ... well, people call me a blessing, so I have to accept that."

She continues to see a therapist, and her husband, Warren, a project manager for Verizon Airfone, and their two children, Lonye, 9, and Warren II, 7, have provided her with additional emotional support.

At her children's elementary school, the principal spearheaded a penny drive in the Jeffersons' names and donated a check to the Beamer family.

She said she and Lisa Beamer, Todd Beamer's widow, have become "like girlfriends." They occasionally talk on the phone and contact each other whenever they're in the other's city.

She said that ever since the Post-Gazette contacted her just days after the crashes and wrote about her experience, the media requests for interviews have not stopped.

And not all of the attention has come from journalists.

"I've received so many nice cards, e-mails and letters from people all over that I don't know, thanking me for the comfort that I'd given Todd," Jefferson said. "They're calling me a hero and blessing from God. I feel that's an honor."

Today, she'll get an award to make the honor official.

Tomorrow, she said, she'll go back to work at the Verizon switchboard headquarters and try to get back to normal.

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