20 years later, 9/11 still vivid for Jalbert family

For some, it will be hard to believe that the 9/11 terrorist attacks are already two decades in the past. It’s a wound that is still fresh for those who lost a loved one in the horrific tragedy.

That’s certainly the case for the Jalberts, who are still grieving the loss of their family patriarch. 

Twenty years ago, Robert Jalbert, a Swampscott resident, was headed to Orange, Calif. on United Flight 175. He was traveling to visit the Rogers Foam plant on business but never made it to his destination.

As soon as Mike Jalbert, Robert’s son, realized that his father was on a flight that day, he called United Airlines seeking any information about his dad. 

“The day remains quite vivid,” said Mike. 

John Vittori, who was the Jalbert family’s neighbor on Greenwood Avenue, described Robert as a good man who was very religious. The neighbor mentioned that he faithfully went to 7 a.m. mass every morning.

“He was a good dad,” said Vittori. “He had three kids and they all grew up here in Swampscott and they went through the Swampscott school systems.”

Vittori added that Jalbert and his wife, Cathie, had a very strong relationship. 

“He was just an easy-going guy,” Vittori added. “(The) last time I saw him he was rebuilding that porch, and a week later he’s gone.”

The resident of 79 Greenwood Ave. described Jalbert as a good neighbor who was also a good friend. 

While the neighborhood has changed over the years, Vittori says that neighbors still talk about the attack, and its toll on the Jalbert family. 

Robert Jalbert was raised in Lewiston, Maine and eventually settled with his family in Swampscott. The Jalberts said that Robert valued education and was very proud that his children had all graduated from college, something that he and Cathie had worked very hard to provide for them.

Thanks to Xavier University and the Jalbert family, Robert’s legacy will live on forever. The Robert Jalbert 9/11 Memorial Scholarship was created and established an exclusive relationship between Xavier and St. Dominic’s Regional High School in Lewiston, Maine ― alma mater of Jalbert and his longtime friend Dr. Roger Fortin, a history professor at Xavier University. In the hopes of helping more students from the Boston area who are interested in a Jesuit education, the family has chosen to expand the scholarship to include Swampscott High School and high schools connected with the Archdiocese of Boston.

The town of Swampscott also has a memorial on display near Town Hall featuring Jalbert’s name, along with two other Swampscott residents who lost their lives in the War on Terror. Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald said that the town plans on having a ceremony at Town Hall this year as a means to mark 20 years since one of America’s darkest hours. 

Fitzgerald didn’t know Jalbert personally, but said that, thanks to St. John’s Church, he knows how great a man he was.

“He was certainly an extraordinary person,” Fitzgerald said. “He was a eucharistic minister over at the church. He was really active in service.”

As Fitzgerald thinks back on 9/11 20 years later, he said it is a complicated memory. While he remembers the tragedy and loss that occurred on that horrific day, he also remembers the unity.

“Certainly I think it was a shock to all of us,” he said. “But the outpouring of support and community in the sense that we were all one nation supporting each other, shouldering each other through a tragedy, to me, was truly inspiring.”