Welles Crowther was working on the 104th floor of the South Tower on the morning of September 11, 2001 when the plane hit. Crowther, with a red bandanna covering his mouth and nose to protect him from the smoke, sprang into action—finding and leading traumatized and disoriented people to safety. He is directly responsible for saving at least 18 lives.
The fact that he made it out of the inferno three times when so many didn’t make it out at all is remarkable enough. But that he went back three times to help others is the epitome of heroism. Six months after the South Tower collapsed, Welles’ body was finally recovered.
Courage? Crowther was the very embodiment of it. But I want to focus on another virtue he displayed that day: prudence.
Prudence is about putting “first things first”; it is the virtue that guides sound judgment. Now, some might quietly and respectfully question the “sound judgment” of a man who would go back into a collapsing sky scraper three times.
But prudence isn’t about playing it safe. We’re talking about virtue here, not the basic rules of accounting.
Crises don’t make or break people, they reveal people. And long before that fateful morning of September 11, Crowther was figuring out what it meant to make good decisions, judgments that were based on more than just emotion, and ease, and self—at home and in the classroom, as a Boy Scout and a member of the Boston College lacrosse team, as an emergency fireman and eventually as an equities trader for Sandler O’Neill and Partners.
It seemed like for the 24 year-old Crowther it was always about others. The last call he made, nine minutes after the first plane hit the tower, was to his mother. She wasn’t home, so he calmly left her a message. “Mom, this is Welles. I want you to know that I’m OK.”
And then he pulled out his red bandana one final time and went to work.
In the last hour of his life, Welles Crowther made the sound judgment that saving lives was what he was supposed to do…first things first. Not because he had to, but because he could.
Welles Crowther is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.