There’s a line from the Marvel Comics miniseries WandaVision that rippled through popular culture earlier this year: “What is grief but love persevering?”
When Peter Goodrich ’89 died aboard hijacked United Flight 175 on Sept. 11, 2001, grief enshrouded his family and his Bates friends, as it did a country mourning so many losses.
His wife, Rachel Carr Goodrich ’90, recalls how she “went to work happy with my life” on that tragic day. “I came home hours later a different person” — a person grieving for what was seemingly lost: love.
But, 20 years later, love has persevered, providing a path forward for Rachel and many of Peter’s close friends. Love persevering has provided an opportunity to honor a man who gave so much love to his family and friends. And love persevering will someday provide scholarship support for a student to succeed at Bates.
By all accounts, and there are so many of them, Peter Goodrich was a magical, loving soul, a “self-proclaimed nerd,” says Rachel, capable of bringing people into his sphere while marching to his own drummer. “He was happy being who he was. He never compromised his interests or his enthusiasm in order to fit in.”
And he was so many things. “There was always something new that beckoned to him — academic, athletic, technical, game theory, computing, physical, or the natural realm,” says classmate Butch Beckmann ’89.
Beckmann remembers Peter, a standout in the shot put, weight throw, and discus at Bates, practicing his throwing technique while in line in Commons. He remembers so many games of chess, and Peter describing flight mechanics of dragonflies. “Or seeing Peter, standing waist deep in the brook behind his home in Williamstown, wearing a snorkel as he watched fingerling trout, popping his head out of the water to call us over to see.”
“Because he was so enthusiastic about what he was learning, and so excited to tell you, you really genuinely were interested,” says Rachel. “Like how bugs stick to glass. I would never want to know that, but Peter made you want to know.”
Six-foot-plus and nearly 200 pounds by Bates graduation, Peter had been a late bloomer growing up in Williamstown, Mass. He also had dyslexia. “He was a shy little kid who was very curious about a lot of things that not every kid was interested in,” says Rachel. “Other kids did what kids do when they’re scared by someone who’s different: They called him names and picked on him.”
That all ended when he developed into a track and field standout in the throws. “He started to shine,” Rachel says. “I think his experiences as a kid gave him such compassion later in life: He never wanted anyone to feel not at ease with him or not at ease with themselves.”
A few years after graduation, when Karl Uhlendorf ’90 was hurting and grieving, he turned to his friends Peter and Rachel, who took him into their home. “One night was especially bad. I couldn’t shake it,” Uhlendorf recalls. “Around 11 p.m., Peter jumped up, said, ‘Follow me,’ and led me to the basketball court around the corner.”
They shot the ball in silence, then played some one-on-one. “We jockeyed, bumped, and pushed for rebounds. Gradually, banter and laughter took over.” And with that, the clouds started to clear.
Peter loved the pool table in Adams Hall, recalls Matt Schecter ’89.
“He would spend countless hours showing me the nuances of the game. He was a math and physics major, so he would break it down by angles and what was physically possible,” says Schecter. “Whenever I play pool, I think of lessons with Pete.”
They bought a home in Sudbury, Mass., in 1997. By 2001, Peter was a key leader at a software company, where he was as gifted with engineering as he was creating an effective team. Rachel described her last morning with Peter, who was headed out on a business trip.
“Peter made me stop my usual rushing around morning routine in our kitchen to make me take a second to hug him — not just a quick hug, but a stop, take a breath, and really appreciate the person you are with hug, I hugged him, kissed him goodbye, told him I loved him, reminded him to return the magazine he borrowed from the neighbors, and shooed him on his way so he did not miss his plane.”
Each year after 9/11, the town of Sudbury, Mass., holds a public commemoration to remember its three citizens who died that day. In the first few years, Rachel helped to honor Peter’s memory by being front and center at each commemoration. “But I’m not really good with being the center of attention. It wasn’t the right thing for me.”
In recent years, she has honored Peter’s memory more privately and quietly. She visits his grave in Sudbury in the morning and visits the town’s Memorial Park — “it’s beautiful” — in the afternoon after the public ceremony is done. “I spend the day reflecting on wonderful memories and how grateful I am for having had Peter in my life.”
Over the years, remembering Peter has included receiving notes from Bates, year after year, letting her know who has made gifts in his memory. Year after year, the gifts remind Rachel that Peter’s friends had not forgotten the love that he gave to them or the love they felt for him.
Rather than spend the gifts, the college placed money into the endowment for safekeeping, allowing the scholarship to grow. By late 2019, the fund was just north of $23,000, a generous figure but far less than the $100,000 required for an endowed fund to begin providing financial aid to students.
Over the years, staff in the College Advancement Office had offered to help promote the fund ahead of Rachel’s or Peter’s class Reunions. Rachel deeply appreciated the offers, but resisted. “I always felt that Reunions should be about the whole class, not one person.”
With the arrival of the 20th anniversary year of 9/11, Rachel began reaching out to close Bates friends. “I didn’t know how I wanted the 20th anniversary to look, how to celebrate and honor Peter,” she says.
Schecter, Peter’s pool partner in Adams, was one of the friends she reached out to. He and Peter were both All-America track and field performers for coach Walter Slovenski, bonded by a shared pursuit of excellence in their gravity-defying events, Schecter in the high jump and Peter as a thrower. (In 2002, the throwing circle at Bates’ outdoor track was named in Peter’s memory.)
Peter brought his math and physics chops to his throwing, Schecter told the Bates Bobcast. “He was very scientific — his technique was just incredible. Other athletes were much bigger than Pete. But he got more out of his body than anyone.”
With classmate Craig Geikie, Peter served as a senior co-captain. Whether as track captain or out and about on campus, “he was caring and inclusive, always looking around the room and making sure everyone felt included,” Schecter says.
Rachel talked with Schecter about struggling with the 9/11 anniversary and the scholarship fund. “We discussed the options,” Schecter recalls. “I tried to help her reframe it.”
Schecter, with other Bates friends that Rachel reached out to, talked about what the 20th could be, and what it didn’t need to be. “It wasn’t another opportunity to mark his death, but rather really to celebrate his life,” says Schecter.
“Everyone I spoke with helped me redefine my feelings about promoting Peter’s scholarship,” Rachel says. “Furthering the scholarship became an opportunity to celebrate and remember Peter’s wonderful life. It felt perfect.”
The question of whether Peter’s friends would support a fund in his memory was not something she could be certain of; nearly 20 years later, after the grieving had grown quieter, did that mean the love still persevered?
The answer came during a Zoom call last spring. Organized by another friend, Win Brown ’89, the call brought together Rachel and a group of friends to talk about the scholarship fund, including Jack Yang ’89 and Suzanne Blazon Yang ’90.
Jack Yang is the type of friend, says Rachel, who springs into action, quietly. An easy example: that moment at Rachel and Peter’s wedding when the photos needed to be taken but the space was a mess. “My mother was in a panic. Jack took out the vacuum and started vacuuming the living room. And my mother was like, ‘He sees what needs to be done and just does it.’”
“Jack just does it, with grace and such kindness.” Yang was one of the first people Rachel spoke to on 9/11. He was the person who helped make calls to let Bates friends know what was happening.
And with the Goodrich Scholarship Fund, Jack and Suzanne Yang were there again. Unbeknownst to Rachel, the couple “had worked their magic,” receiving gift commitments in excess of $50,000.
For Rachel, it was a stunning moment. “I went from hoping Peter’s scholarship would be possible to feeling so much gratitude and excitement about what we may be able to do in honor of Peter — and those are not emotions that I was ever expecting to have at this time.”
Within a few months, gifts and pledges to the fund had zoomed past the required $100,000.
Today, the Peter M. Goodrich ’89 Memorial Scholarship Fund is fully endowed, totaling over $200,000 and still growing. According to its terms, the fund will provide scholarship support to Bates students “with preference for members of the men’s or women’s track and field teams and/or students with demonstrated interest in STEM fields.”
“Pete represents the student that Bates tries to foster,” says Jack Yang. “A person who tries new things, expands their own perspective, develops empathy and deep relationships through shared experiences.”
“There’s been so much joy in connecting with everybody, making this happen — a collective group of friends, honoring someone we all love and helping future Bates students,” says Rachel.
When Rev. Brittany Longsdorf, who serves as the Bates multifaith chaplain, learned of Peter Goodrich and his legacy, her response was a simple reminder of the cyclical nature of love: “We learned to love by being loved.”
That idea resonates with Rachel Goodrich. “Not only do I believe that we learn to love by being loved, but I believe we are healed by love. We in turn help others by our love.”