San Francisco Chronicle
Coming to terms:
Warriors exec at peace with dad’s 9/11 death
Warriors exec is at peace with father’s death on Flight 93 and tries to help others.
“While it was devastating that my dad was on that flight, it also felt like it fit with how he led his life; how he approached things.” John Beaven, Warriors vice president of ticket sales and services
For years after his father died during the Sept. 11 attacks, John Beaven tried to distance himself from the tragedy.
It wasn’t that he minded talking about how his dad, Alan, helped prevent hijackers from crashing United Flight 93 into a target in the nation’s capital. What made Beaven uncomfortable was people’s emotional response whenever they learned about his father’s death in an empty field outside Pittsburgh.
Millions lose a parent every year, often in horrific ways. What, Beaven would ask himself, makes me any different?
But as Beaven, now the Warriors’ vice president of ticket sales and services, toured the 9/11 Memorial and Museum on a warm afternoon in late July, he was struck by the magnitude of the attacks. In that moment, as he
surveyed the names of nearly 3,000 people killed, he understood why Alan’s story engenders such empathy.
Almost every American was affected by the events of that day 20 years ago. When Beaven tells acquaintances that his dad was among the casualties, they feel another connection to one of the most devastating events in U.S. history.
Now, after long trying not to let the worst day of his life define him, Beaven views it as a gift. By speaking openly about Alan’s role on 9/11’s only hijacked commercial flight to miss its target, Beaven honors his biggest role model and helps others grapple with the painful memories that linger two decades later.
“It is a part of my history,” Beaven, 41, said of his dad’s death. “I think I’ve learned to accept and appreciate that. What I’ve realized is that people can come to better grips with 9/11 when they know someone that was directly impacted.”
Beaven made no grand plans for the 20th anniversary. A decade after he visited the crash site in southwestern Pennsylvania for the unveiling of the Flight 93 National Memorial, he planned to embrace his wife and two young children, call his brother, mother, stepmother and eldest daughter, and reflect on all he learned from his dad.
Alan Beaven was an accomplished environmental attorney, but few would’ve known by looking at him. The native New Zealander drove an old Honda Civic, wore his hair long and saved his suits for trials. Instead of a traditional filing system, Alan spread accordion folders across his office floor. He meditated, practiced yoga, and once spent a month at an ashram in India.
Many of Alan’s work hours were spent prosecuting oil companies that violated the Clean Water Act. His career was so demanding that, for about five years after he divorced John’s mother when John was 7, he saw his two sons only sporadically. But shortly after John’s mom moved with the two boys from New York to Sacramento when John was 12, Alan decided he was tired of work taking away from family time.
He convinced his firm to let him open an office in San Francisco, and settled down
with his new wife, Kimi, in Emeryville. For the next eight years, Alan seldom missed his kids’ sporting events, parentteacher conferences or recitals. Some of John’s fondest memories are of his dad, who had little knowledge of baseball, playing catch with him in the backyard and cheering loudly at his high school games.
“He didn’t really follow American sports, but he was by far one of my biggest supporters in my pursuit to play professionally,” John said. “He put in countless hours working to get me better because he knew how important it was to me.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, John was visiting his then-girlfriend at her study-abroad program in Melbourne, Australia, when a news anchor interrupted the TV show he was watching to announce that a plane had hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. Hours later, around 2 a.m. local time, he received a call from his mom. A hijacked plane had crashed in rural Pennsylvania, killing all 44 people on board.
Alan was one of them. He was 48 years old.
John, then a 21-year-old senior at UC San Diego, had last seen his dad two months earlier at one of his summer ballgames in San Diego. Alan was planning to leave with Kimi and their 5-year-old daughter for a yearlong sabbatical in India, where he’d focus on pro bono clean water legislation.
But before they could go, Alan needed to finish one last case involving river pollution in California. On the morning of Sept. 11, he drove down from South Fallsburg, N.Y., where he lived for about a month each year, to Newark, N.J., for a San Franciscobound flight.
The plane was delayed on the tarmac for nearly an hour, which afforded passengers time to learn two commercial jetliners had struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center and a third was approaching the Pentagon. Numerous relatives who received calls from Flight 93 passengers have reported that their loved ones resolved to seize control of the plane after four alQaeda operatives used knives and box cutters to take over the cockpit.
Alan was unable to call his family; he didn’t carry a cell phone. But many believe he was among those who came up with a plan to rush the hijackers. That group’s efforts limited fatalities to those aboard the plane. Had the hijackers completed their mission, they could have crashed into the White House or U.S. Capitol building and killed many more.
Immediately afterward, John was desperate to learn anything he could about his dad’s final moments. What most comforted him was a three-word, hand-written note found taped to the wall of Alan’s sparsely furnished New York office: “Fear? Who cares.”
When John was a kid, he often would climb rocks and trees near their house as Alan stood back and watched. It was a dad’s way of showing his young son that fear often gets in people’s way.
The stories that have emerged from Flight 93 paint a portrait of a passenger list filled with people who shared Alan’s willingness to put aside their fear. After hearing the cockpit recordings from the flight’s final half-hour, reading numerous articles and talking to other people who had loved ones on the plane, John was left with an overwhelming sense that those passengers were on that plane to help avoid an even bigger tragedy.
“I’m not a deeply religious person, but it felt like there was a greater meaning for why those individuals had been selected by fate to be on that airplane,” Beaven said. “While it was devastating that my dad was on that flight, it also felt like it fit with how he led his life; how he approached things.”
Over the past two decades, as John climbed the Warriors’ executive ranks and became a father of three, he often reflected on his dad’s parenting style. Even though Alan didn’t always live in the same house as his two sons, he made a point of being an active part of their lives.
Alan’s lifelong support and encouragement for John’s baseball dream were a big reason why, after going undrafted out of UC San Diego in 2002, John — a 6-foot-5, righthanded pitcher — drove to Los Angeles the day before he was scheduled to report to an independent league team in Texas. In an open tryout, John impressed a Tampa Bay Devil Rays scout enough to earn a minor-league contract.
Though his pro baseball career stalled out after one season with Tampa Bay’s short-season A-ball affiliate in upstate New York, Alan continued to influence John’s path. After returning home in 2003, John contacted Warriors executive Travis Stanley, whom he had gotten to know when the team presented the Alan Beaven Family Fund with a $25,000 check two years earlier.
John wanted to see if Stanley could help him find a job with a San Diego team, the Padres or Chargers. Stanley had other plans: he offered John an entry-level position in the Warriors’ ticket office. Eighteen years later, John has established himself as one of the business side’s most respected executives, overseeing a ticket waiting list of 40,000.
“I’m not surprised at all with how well he’s doing,” said Stanley, now the president and CEO of the Napa Chamber of Commerce. “John was a pretty mature guy for his years when we initially met. I told him he’d have a much longer professional career than he could ever imagine if he just approached work the same way he approached baseball, and that’s what he has done.”
But John knows that if Alan could see him today, he’d be most proud of John’s family life. Drawing upon memories of his relationship with his late dad, John is not letting a demanding career infringe on his time with his three children. Work emails and calls go unanswered when he’s at a youth soccer game or neighborhood playground.
During their visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, John showed his teenage daughter, Sara, a photo of Alan. Hours later, checking into his hotel near LaGuardia Airport, John received his room key: 911.
“I was out there that day for that reason, then was assigned Room 911 of all rooms,” John said.
“It felt like someone was looking after me.”