From The Archive
A Year Of Living Gratefully
Jimmy Dunne was playing golf when dozens of his friends and colleagues were killed on 9/11. The pain and pleasure of a lucky man
Whether he was in coveralls or a custom suit, buzzed or sober, finishing a bond trade or the front nine, Jimmy Dunne III always remembered what his father told him: Anticipate. The next conversation, the next deal, the next step. But sometimes lately, as the 18-hour days stacked up one to the next like bad traffic, anticipation yields to reflection. He must look back.
Jimmy was the short one, a second helping stouter than average. He had that look: This boy is going places, but he will raise some hell along the way. Chris Quackenbush was the tall one, a little gawky, the type who would grow into his height. Wore wire-rimmed glasses. Father was a doctor. He looked like the kind of kid you'd want taking a test for you.
They were 14, on a practice range at Southward Ho CC in Bay Shore, N.Y. They were Long Island kids, something always going on. Didn't know each other. The short kid was hitting balls. He already loved golf with a passion, and he was pretty good. The tall kid was new to the game, just learning. He was taking a lesson, grooving his swing, when the pro made him pause. Keep working at it, Chris, and some day you'll be able to hit the ball as well as Jimmy over there.
"I doubt it," the short kid said to the tall kid.
"I'm going to beat you," the tall kid said to the short kid. Thirty years later a lucky man was on the first tee at Augusta National, wondering what he was doing there. Outside tournament week, without the huge galleries and the hues of spring to frame the holes, the familiar course held a disconcerting sweep that matched his mood. Steadying his hand, he thought to put his best friend's initial on a golf ball. With one bold "Q," Dunne was writing a lot of history.
If golfers still wore metal spikes the pacing would have filled the room with clickety-clacks, but Jimmy Dunne moved across the concrete floor again and again without a sound track, without that old comforting echo of his favorite game. His life was getting worse with each step.
The challenge, the camaraderie, the code -- golf had only meant good things to Dunne. But minutes earlier a man with a worried look and a walkie-talkie had approached on the seventh hole, and now the game was backdrop to a different mood.
What a day it promised to be. Dunne was 44. He had been working on his golf, playing better than ever. He held a 1-handicap and was intent on qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship for the first time. On Sept. 11, 2001, the sky was so clear over Bedford (N.Y.) Golf & Tennis Club, 50 miles north of New York City, it was as if someone madly in love with blue had painted it in bold strokes.
Dunne usually took the view from his office for granted, but had he been there on such a pristine day he might have caught himself gazing out the window, north toward the Empire State Building, north toward where he lived along the East River in the 50s.
"Don't call in tomorrow morning," Herman Sandler had said to Dunne as he left the offices of their financial services company the previous night. Sandler was Dunne's mentor. He didn't play golf but that didn't keep him from appreciating how much Dunne loved it. "Nothing is going to happen. Qualify for this mid-whatever-it-is."
Then, on the seventh tee, this man with the walkie-talkie had approached, a man with something on his mind.
"Are my children OK?" Dunne asked him.
"Is my wife OK?"
"Yes. But you have to call home."
Wondering whatinthehell Dunne played the par 5. On in three, two putts. Routine. But the man was still there.
He left his caddie and his clubs on the eighth tee. Soon Dunne was out of the brilliant sunshine, sequestered in a dim bag room with phones filling his head with anguish and confusion.
There was a television. He didn't know for sure -- what did anybody really know then? -- but he believed Quackenbush, Sandler and dozens of other friends and colleagues at Sandler O'Neill & Partners likely were dead, victims of the attack on the south tower of the World Trade Center. Surrounded by dread, Dunne insisted on paying Jim Poppe, a retired fireman who had been carrying his clubs. The pro's wife, trying to help, offered him a drink. He said no. Six hours later, a little after 5 p.m., Dunne arrived on a Metro North train at Grand Central Terminal. He ran toward Sandler O'Neill's satellite office at 48th Street, but aware that he needed to appear in control, he slowed down and walked the last two blocks. As he got to the door he sucked in enough air to take him to the bottom of the sea, and then he went to work.
Dunne had made it big. He played golf at places where there was someone to shine your shoes, Pinaud talc on the counter, combs floating in that blue stuff, paper slippers to wear out of the shower. Guys like Jimmy Dunne never had to wait for balls to go on sale at a discount store in a strip mall. He could sign for things at some of the world's best clubs, courses on lists and in golfers' dreams, places with little signs and big reputations. Pine Valley. Seminole. Shinnecock Hills. National Golf Links of America. More than a dozen others. Courses everybody wanted to play, but the best for which most of them could hope was a logoed shirt if they knew someone who knew someone.
To anyone who knew Dunne, it was no surprise that he had been out of the office and on a golf course. When he was in his mid-20s, a girlfriend remarked that their relationship, which had begun in winter, was going so well.
"We haven't hit any bumps yet," Dunne told her. "It'll be spring soon." When spring came, Dunne was gone from dawn to dusk Saturdays and Sundays playing golf. "We didn't make the cut," he says.
When he was dating his wife, Susan, who grew up on the same street in Babylon, N.Y., as he did, he played so much she thought 36 holes was the norm. Flying to Hawaii for their honeymoon, he asked her to quiz him on a list of top courses. She'd name a course, and he'd name the architect. Eventually he'd play every course on the Golf magazine top-100 list, layouts all around the world, making a friend at every one.
He hit low, boring shots and seldom made foolish mistakes. He thought he could get better if he could just try a little harder on every shot, and he already played hard. "You talk about a personality coming out on a golf course," says friend Andy Armstrong. "If you've got a match with Jimmy, he's a pit bull." Dunne played at least 200 rounds a year, more than some tour pros. All of it was fun, but most of it was for business. "At Sandler O'Neill," he says, "the golf was a weapon."
Dunne had a supersized personality -- deep voice, booming laugh -- but he wielded the sport gently, respectfully. Building relationships. Brokering deals. In a suit Dunne could be colder than Greenland when he had to be. In an article about Sandler O'Neill earlier this year, Fortune magazine reported Dunne once berated a trader, "The next time you do something smart, monkeys'll fly out of my ass."