It began during their freshmen orientation at Stonehill College, a brief encounter that would forever reshape the contours of their lives, the first steps on a journey that would lead to love, marriage, careers, children — and searing tragedy now forever preserved on the pages of history.
It was September 1972, the opening days of new students’ introduction to life at the college in Easton and an old black-and-white movie flickered across a darkened auditorium’s screen.
“You kind of sat on the floor and this person came in with his friend and they sat near us,’' Elizabeth Hayden recalled. “And he had on a gray T-shirt that said, ‘D-Y Dolphins.’ And that caught my attention because my family had a summer cottage down the Cape.’'
And so Elizabeth made the first move, asking a young Jim Hayden: “Are you from Dennis-Yarmouth?’'
“And it happened that he wasn’t,’' she said. “But he had summered with his family for two weeks down in Dennis Port. And he had the T-shirt.’'
She paused, remembering those fateful moments, and then softly added: “I actually still have that T-shirt.’'
It’s a token of love, an old piece of fabric now woven into her family’s history — a history whose most recent pages will record a $2 million gift from the woman Jim Hayden loved. That money will be used to establish an endowed chair in his memory at Stonehill’s newly formed Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Social Justice.
Jim Hayden was 47 years old, a vice president and chief financial officer for Waltham-based Netegrity, when he boarded United Airlines Flight 175, the second hijacked plane to crash into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
His daughter, Liz, was in the second week of her sophomore year at Stonehill when that world-shaking terrorist attack killed her father almost 20 years ago.
“It’s hard for me to talk about,’' Liz said. “Parts of it I remember like it was yesterday. The actual conversations of that day I don’t. I just remember the pit in my stomach all morning. Just not knowing. The fear.’'
What Jim Hayden’s wife, then a teacher, remembers is the blessed normalcy with which that crystalline September morning began. He was headed to California on a business trip.
“Just another trip,’' she said. “Right. Hundreds of trips. Wake up Tuesday morning. I’m really excited. This is our first full week of school for me. My husband is ready for his trip. There’s a van driver outside. I think it was around 6 o’clock in the morning.
“He goes, ‘Where’s my blazer?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And we’re searching through the closets. Where could it be?’'
Jim left for Logan. A new day began. And then Elizabeth Hayden went off to teach her fifth-grade class in the town of Harvard.
What followed was unimaginable grief, a numbing period of mourning, and a deep hole in the lives of those who knew Jim Hayden best and loved him most — a wound that perhaps will never fully heal.
Here’s what Elizabeth Hayden remembers: She was in her school’s copying room, when she asked a colleague: “How are you doing?’'
“And she goes, ‘Well, I was fine until I knew we were at war.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Gee, it’s a bad day in your class, isn’t it?’
“And then I walked into the library and on the big screen there were the twin towers and a plane has just crashed into them and then a second plane had crashed into the twin towers.
“And as soon as I saw it, I just froze. I was like: Oh, my goodness. It was like my mind just snapped. I was terrified. At that point, there was just no reliable information. No one knew what was happening.’'
And then everyone did.
The CEO of her husband’s company delivered the news to her. “I hate to tell you this,’' he said. “But it was Jim’s plane. The second plane going into the south tower was Jim’s plane.’'
The outpouring of sympathy, the offers of support, the heart-rending words of consolation that followed were welcome salve.
More than 1,000 students, faculty, and alumni gathered at Stonehill the night after the attacks for a candlelight vigil of reflection and support.
“And, of course, at a funeral I guess people always say nice things, but the nice things they said about Jim were really true,’' Elizabeth said.
And that’s the man — the husband and father — that Elizabeth Hayden wants to be remembered and why she is endowing a special chair at this new center on his old college campus, the place that changed their lives.
It will be a place to examine the roots of racism. A place to promote healing over hate.
A place to remember Jim Hayden, a mild and gentle man.
“Jim was a person who lived for the day,’' Elizabeth Hayden told me. “He just really lived a day at a time. He was a very positive, very optimistic person. Very consistent in his temperament.’'
In the days after his death, she heard that assessment of her husband repeated again and again.
So did his daughter Liz, who once worked as a summer intern at Netegrity, her father’s company in Waltham. She recalls the stream of colleagues who sought out her father’s counsel.
“He was always listening,’' she said. “And that’s what was great about him. He was a really great listener. And he wanted to hear people’s problems. For him, it wasn’t so much about putting himself first, but helping others figure it out.’'
The Rev. John Denning, Stonehill College’s president, called Elizabeth Hayden’s gift to the school an extraordinary gesture founded upon a sense of compassion and genuine care for humanity.
It’s an investment, he said, in the college that helped shape the man she loved.
“It will help us look at who we are and how we can become even better,’' Father Denning said. “This is a legacy for Jim, but it’s also a profound statement about what their values are as a family.’'
Stonehill will establish a Hayden Family Lecture Series. It will help fund research work by a student focused on social justice and ethnicity and race.
It will preserve the memory of the man that Elizabeth Hayden met in Easton back in the early 1970s, back when springtime bloomed and so did their love story.
“I wanted people to know that Jim was a person of peace,’' she said. “He was a sensitive guy. And you might not judge that from outward appearances because he seemed so solid. But he was very sensitive.
“I did not want hatred toward these individual terrorists to poison the thoughts of people. He would not want that.’'
And now, at the place where he met the woman he loved — the place that helped shape the trajectory of his life — a seed of peace will be planted in Jim Hayden’s memory.
Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at email@example.com.