'True Gentleman' Loved Sons and the Beach

By Collin Nash

May 10, 2002

The day after Thomas O'Hagen and his bride arrived in Hawaii on the island of Kauai for their honeymoon in 1992, a Category 5 hurricane drove home what, his wife said, she knew deep down all along: She couldn't have made a better choice.

As Hurricane Iniki peeled the roofs of nearby structures, the chandeliers jiggled and the ceiling pulsated in the hotel ballroom where they and more than 1,500 other guests had been evacuated, Andrea O'Hagen recalled. In his usual calm, assured manner, her husband led her to the basement of the building.

They and the others returned to their rooms after the storm blew over, O'Hagen's wife said, but she couldn't help but give thanks for their good fortune after awaking to the swath of devastation Iniki cut. She paused further to count her personal blessings, she said, after learning that her husband had earlier scoped out the basement before seeking refuge there. "In a way, it was the firefighter in him," she said. "But by nature, it was also in him to take charge."

She said she has no doubt that her husband, a lieutenant in Engine Co. 6 in lower Manhattan, went into the World Trade Center towers that September day with his usual take-charge attitude. A 20-year veteran firefighter, O'Hagen, 43, planned to retire this year and embark on a new career.

One of 11 siblings, O'Hagen was new to fatherhood. His twin boys, Patrick and Pierce, had just turned 18 months when the terrorists took his life. She and her husband weathered five years of frustration and disappointments trying to conceive the boys, his wife said. But by Sept.11, they'd had the twins and things were just beginning to jell. They had moved into a new apartment in Riverdale, where her husband grew up. They planned to buy a home in the Hamptons, where they, the kids and their dog, Jezebel, could be near the water. "He was a big beach lover," his wife said.

O'Hagen had been spending time in the Hamptons since his teen years. He bartended out there, his wife said. He also moonlighted, tending bars in the city. That and a cookie route he ran with his brother-in-law, Tommy Hart, was his second job. After his sons were born, all that took a back seat. He was in his element around them, she said.

"I can see him now coming through the door with his arms outstretched saying, 'How are my boys today? I love you.'" He had no qualms about showing them off, riding them around his neighborhood in their double stroller, often stopping along the way to visit with his parents, Helen, who died last year, and Frank.

Trying her best to calm the twins as she spoke on the telephone, she confessed their "terrible twos" stage is pushing her patience to the limit. "They're in this stage of fighting over things," she said, apologizing for the interruption. "He was the one with all the patience. I'm learning as we go along."

O'Hagen's family was his life. But cooking, a skill he honed at the firehouse, was his other love.

Just about every night she was treated to one of his gourmet-like creations, his wife said, lamenting how she regrets not paying more attention. "Now, I'm burning hot dogs and overcooking the chicken." She said friends and family still ask for his recipes, especially his coleslaw and chowder.

He was everything and more than she could have hoped for in a husband, she said of the man she'd been married to for nearly 10 years. "He was just a true gentleman, a very warm, giving person."

He also was a pragmatist. If they could have one of those comforting, heart-to-heart talks they regularly had, she said, her husband would probably say something like: "Raise the boys, keep them and yourself happy, and move on."