If an activity can be described as rugged, probably tried it.
When the Rockland-born New York City firefighter wasn’t scaling the sides of buildings to rescue those in need, he liked to spend his downtime -- yes, downtime -- at the rodeo riding bulls. But that was also only when he wasn’t playing for the FDNY football team. Or participating in weight lifting competitions
“He did a little of everything,” said Foley’s father, also named Thomas Foley. “It was great.”
But even with everything Foley did, none excited him more than working as a firefighter.
“He was so happy with his job. He loved working as a firefighter,” said his mother Pat Foley. “He loved adventure. He was a daredevil.”
Pat and Thomas Foley, who live in West Nyack, as well as more than a hundred other relatives and friends gathered Thursday night at the Lafayette Theater in Suffern to remember Tommy Foley, as Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of his death. Foley, who worked for the Rescue 3 squad in the Bronx, died rescuing people from the south World Trade Center tower during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He was just 32 years old.
Thursday night was the first screening of a film produced by his sister, Joanne Foley Gross, and directed by Anthony Fiore. The film, Thomas J. Foley: Legacy of A Young Hero, took three years to complete and will be screened at various locations over the next few days.
Friday night at 7 p.m., there will be another screening at the Lafayette Theater. On Saturday, the film is being screened at the Mitzi E. Newhouse at the Lincoln Center, which is already sold out. On Sunday, the film will be screened at Pace University, at the New York City campus and the Pleasantville campus, both at 1 p.m. The film will also show Monday night at 7 p.m. at SUNY Orange County Community College, Harriman Hall 111 Film Theatre. To RSVP for one of the showings, go to the film’s website.
“This was the first time I saw it on a big screen, and so that was quite exciting, but also very emotional,” said Pat Foley. “It showed his character, what a wonderful person he was and how much he enjoyed life.”
Her husband agreed, saying the film “absolutely” captured how his son was a “real special guy.”
Joanne Foley Gross said she made sure the movie accurately depicted her brother.
“I wouldn’t have released it if I didn’t think it showed the true Tommy,” she said. “I’m a perfectionist already, but when it comes to my brother, I just want to make sure everything is just 110 percent perfect.”
Perfect was a word Gross used frequently when describing Thursday evening. She was touched at just how many people came out to see the film.
“We got to sit in a balcony seat at this beautiful theater and share the memory of Tommy will all these people,” Gross said. “It was just perfect.”
Shortly after Foley died, Gross said her original idea was to write a book about his life. She said she started writing down notes until she had pages and pages of material, but just couldn’t figure out how to put it all together. A few years later, she attended a function where numerous people told stories about her brother when she realized the better way to honor his life would be with a movie.
She told a friend who wrote down the number of a filmmaker he knew and gave it to Gross. She called the number, which belonged to Fiore, and he agreed to make the movie with her despite the two not knowing one another previous to that conversation.
The film chronicles Foley’s life, using a lot of interview footage with Foley himself. In 1999, two men were working on some scaffolding outside a building when part of it collapsed, leaving them hanging by their safety lines 12 stories high. When Foley and the rest of his squad arrived at the building, the ladder extended far enough only to reach one of the men.
With the other still hanging, Foley put on a harness and was lowered from the roof down to the man, attaching a safety line to the man’s harness, which transferred the man’s weight to Foley’s main line. Foley then descended lower with the man until he was safely on the ladder.
After that, Foley received quite a bit of media attention, being interviewed by various news sources, as well as ending up on the TV show Extra, and in People magazine twice, including once in its Most Eligible Bachelors issue. The film uses a lot of interview footage from around that time which shows Foley acting selfless, always praising the other members of his squad, and that he wasn’t taking all his media attention too seriously but just going along with it because it was something new to try.
The film also contains interviews with family, friends and even former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In the interviews, Foley is described by various people as “full of energy,” “beyond his years,” “kind-hearted” and much more.
The film opens showing a quote attributed to Foley, and toward the end it shows him saying it in an interview:
“Take your time and live life to the fullest because it might be gone tomorrow.”