GANDER — A friendship forged on 9/11 brought Pat Woodford and his wife Glenda to New York last week to see Come From Away with American Airlines pilot Captain Beverley Bass, her husband Tom and son Taylor.
Come From Away—the story of how the people of Gander took in nearly 7,000 people from 38 stranded planes after the terror attacks in the U.S.—has already drawn rave reviews in San Diego, Seattle and Toronto.
It’s now in previews on Broadway and it’s already a hit there too.
Woodford says the show was “remarkable, very emotional.” He and his wife had already seen the show in Gander, but seeing it in New York was special.
“It made me feel so proud of the people of Gander. I was so proud to tell people that I was from Gander and these were my people and the story was accurate.”
He adds that it was not only the story of Gander, but also of Gambo, Appleton, Glenwood, Lewisporte, Norris Arm and the other communities that helped out.
As a surprise gift, Woodford brought Bass a mounted photograph of her aircraft parked on Apron 3 of the Gander airport in 2001.
Bass, portrayed by Jenn Colella, has seen the show many times but is still moved by the musical, Woodford said.
According to Woodford, the way people reacted to the show in Gander inspired the creators to change it slightly for Broadway.
“At the end of the show here in Gander, they played an Irish jig and everyone was up clapping and singing and dancing in the aisles. But that was supposed to be music for when people were leaving.
“When the producers saw what happened, they knew they had to tap into that. So on Broadway the musicians all come to centre stage and play for four minutes. Everyone in New York stayed and clapped. It was really, really nice.”
Meeting Captain Bass
Woodford is an air traffic controller. He was at home after a night shift when he heard about the attacks. Although air space was closed to civilian traffic, military aircraft continued to fly between North America and Europe, so Woodford was back at work in the control tower that evening.
He spoke to Bass — still on her plane with her 155 passengers — several times during the night. The next day Flight 49 was the 36th of 38 aircraft to deplane.
Woodford was helping out with the Red Cross, registering people. Bass told him she was looking for a rental vehicle but by this time there was nothing left.
“So I gave her the keys to my brand new pick up and she used that for the next few days for transportation for her and her crew around town.”
Woodford says Bass asked him if he wasn’t worried that she, a stranger, might steal the truck. He says he told her, “My dear, we live on an island. Where are you going?”
They’ve been friends ever since.
There was also another connection. As a member of the Knights of Columbus, Woodford was involved in taking care of the American Airlines passengers who were put up there.
The Woodfords have visited the Basses in Texas, and when the Americans returned for the Newfoundland performance of Come From Away, they convinced the Gander couple to join them on Broadway.
Meeting Tom Brokaw
Woodford said that at the musical they were sitting behind Tom Brokaw, who he’d met when Brokaw was in Gander to make a documentary about 9/11.
“He (Brokaw) said he knew there was a great story there but the way they put it to music was amazing. It brought back a lot of memories for him. He talked about the warmth and the spirit of people in Gander.”