9/11 HR hero Alayne Gentul is remembered

By Pamela Babcock Sep 5, 2006

Alayne Gentul was more than a manager. She was a friend with a great sense of humor, a terrific personality and “a smile that will light up the stars,” former colleagues said in a tribute to her.

Gentul, senior vice president of human resources for Fiduciary International, died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York. But her memory lives on in many ways, said her husband, Jack Gentul of Mountain Lakes, N.J.

“We’re doing OK,” Gentul said of himself and the couple’s two sons, Alex, 17, and Robbie, 13. “I think that you learn a lot from something like this—I guess you can’t help it.”

Five years ago, amid the confusion and hysteria of the attacks, witnesses said Gentul, 44, implored colleagues to get out of the World Trade Center south tower after the first hijacked plane struck.

Gentul and a colleague went from the 90th floor to the 97th floor to urge a group of tech support workers to leave. She and others were trapped after the second plane hit.

Since Alayne’s death, Gentul said, he quickly learned how to cook and manage a household as a single parent. He said the family grew even closer—to some degree by necessity. But it was also because of the shared grief.

His sons have much in common with Alayne, Gentul said. One possesses her strong work ethic, another her sense of humor.

“She is very much a part of us,” said Gentul, who is dean of students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.

A year after Alayne’s death, Jack built a house at the New Jersey shore. It was therapeutic to accomplish a goal the two had shared.

“I was fulfilling a dream, and while I was not able to share it with her, at the same time I guess spiritually I got to share it with her and my kids,” he said.

In 2004, a Sept. 11 memorial was dedicated on the edge of Birchwood Lake in Mountain Lakes in memory of Alayne Gentul and resident David Rathkey, who also died in the attacks.

Alayne was born in Queens and received a B.A. in psychology from Rutgers University, where she met Jack. She began her Fiduciary career as a personnel assistant in 1982 and earned an MBA from New York University in 1988.

Fiduciary lost 87 employees during the attacks, and, over the years, Gentul said, former associates have recounted Alayne’s valiant actions.

“That thoughtfulness and calmness is what many of her colleagues felt saved many people,” Jack Gentul said. “Her resolve to indeed evacuate everyone sent her up instead of down that day.”

Alayne called 911 two minutes before the building collapsed, saying that employees needed to get out. While speaking with her husband on the phone, she told him smoke was pouring through the air ducts. The couple said their goodbyes.

“She was doing her job until the moment she died,” Gentul said. “That’s her legacy in terms of what it means to be dedicated to your colleagues and their well-being.”

Her selfless heroism was mentioned by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Board Chair Johnny C. Taylor Jr, J.D., SPHR, during the opening general session of the SHRM Annual Conference in San Diego in June 2005. “Through her courage and sacrifice, HR professional Alayne Gentul is credited with saving the lives of 40 Fiduciary employees,” said Taylor.

In a Fiduciary web site tribute, colleagues described Alayne as the “heart and soul” of the company.

“She was the consummate professional—hard working, sensitive, caring and, most importantly, efficient,” they wrote. “Alayne was smart.”

Alayne’s actions will be highlighted in an upcoming Discovery Channel documentary. Jack Gentul fields plenty of calls from reporters but says he turns down most requests. But he said because of Alayne’s dedication to her field, she would want him to tell the story to HR professionals.

“One thing my wife taught me was what a great field HR is,” Gentul said. “In so many ways, I’ve learned how important HR is to the functioning of an organization and how a really effective HR operation can make all the difference.”

Last summer, Gentul remarried. His wife has two teenagers of her own, so the family suddenly has become “The Brady Bunch” replete with four kids and two dogs, he said.

But the legacy Alayne left is deeply rooted in him and his sons. It’s something Jack hopes will carry on to her grandchildren.

“We talk about her every day,” Jack Gentul said. “There is not a day that she is not mentioned. But it’s not sadness anymore. It’s all in affection and humor and remembrance.”

For the latest HR-related business and government news, go daily to www.shrm.org/hrnews.


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