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Widow Kills Self in Dream House
There was already too much sadness in Pat Flounders' life.
But the loss of her husband of 19 years in the World Trade Center terrorist attack was more than she could bear. So now she too is part of the human wreckage of Sept. 11.
After orchestrating a memorial service for her husband, Joe, at a landmark church near ground zero, Pat Flounders returned to the dream house they had built together in the Pocono Mountains. Days later, she shot herself in the head.
A friend found her Monday afternoon on the floor of her bedroom with a pistol nearby, according to the local coroner's office.
"She was so dependent on Joe after all her illnesses," said Lila May Flounders, Pat's mother-in-law. "Some of us sort of bounce along with our careers. She just couldn't go on."
She explained that Pat, 51, had endured several illnesses before losing her husband.
There were the eight operations as a result of having breast cancer; she underwent two more surgeries in May for heart problems, during which she received a pacemaker; she suffered from depression; and a month after her 46-year-old husband died, her prized Shih Tzu, riddled with cancer, died during surgery.
All Pat had left was a brand-new house--with a new pool and sauna and a deck--and a pile of bills. According to news reports, she was estranged from her only son from a previous marriage.
"There are so many cases like hers," Lila May Flounders said. "There are so many widows who aren't ready for this, for all of this."
Pat Vallette, born in New Orleans, was working for a bank there in 1977 when she met Joseph Flounders, an Ivy League-educated Easterner, over the phone. He was the broker for the bank where she worked. They got together when either was in the other's city, and eventually Joe lured Pat to live in New York. They married in 1982 and settled in Brooklyn Heights.
But after her bout with breast cancer, the Flounderses escaped the city for the mountains of Pennsylvania. Three years ago, they bought a new house on Bushy Hill in Stroudsburg, Pa. Joe, a money market broker at Euro Brokers, had to be up before sunrise to be at his desk on the 84th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center by 8:30 a.m. The daily 175-mile round-trip commute was hard on her son, Lila May Flounders said. But the house in the hills was his sanctuary, Pat had told the New York Times for a brief profile that appeared last month.
Pat was home watching television Sept. 11 when the first plane hit the north tower. She immediately called her husband and told him to get out, she told friends. But he was busy ministering to a panicky co-worker who had been in the tower during the 1993 terrorist attack.
For weeks after the attacks, friends and neighbors surrounded Pat with support. A state lawmaker regularly sent food to the house and had a car service chauffeur her mother-in-law to the airport.
But Pat Flounders, like so many of the World Trade Center widows, was unsettled by not knowing exactly what had become of her husband. For at least three weeks, she kept calling his cellular phone, hoping he might be caught in some cavern under all the rubble, hoping for one last conversation. When the company discontinued the cellular phone service in early October, Pat finally gave up hope of ever seeing Joe again.
"She was moving ahead," Lila May Flounders said. "There was so much to do at first. And these wonderful neighbors kept her going."
Throughout November, Pat threw herself into planning a memorial service for her husband at the landmark Trinity Church near Wall Street. On Dec. 1, dozens of people gathered to hear Joe Flounders remembered in an emotional homily. Then they retreated to the financial district's Fraunces Tavern, a site Pat chose, according to friends, because it had been bombed 26 years ago by Puerto Rican nationalists in an attack that left four people dead.
"When I left, Pat seemed to be coming around," said her 77-year-old mother-in-law, who lives in Lantana, Fla.
But when Lila May Flounders talked to Pat a few days before her death, "she was so down, so alone."
"She was not going to recover."