Sarah 'Sally' Goodrich dies at 65; after son died in 9/11, she helped start a school in Afghanistan

Sarah "Sally" Goodrich lost her son Sept. 11, 2001. Struggling three years later with how to memorialize him with the $49,000 donated to them from family and friends, she and her husband, Donald, helped start a school for girls in Afghanistan.

"The idea that we could go to Afghanistan — where the Afghan people were taken advantage of by Al Qaeda, manipulated, and where the planning for our son's death took place — and provide an alternative way of looking at the world was very appealing to us," Donald Goodrich said.

Sally Goodrich, a former teacher, died Saturday of cancer at her home in Bennington, Vt. She was 65.

Her 33-year-old son, Peter, was aboard the second plane that hit the World Trade Center in New York. She later co-founded the Families of September 11 support group and the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation.

The school project grew out of an e-mail from a neighbor, a friend of her late son, who was serving as a Marine in Afghanistan. He wrote about a school that needed supplies, which prompted Sally Goodrich to get involved.

"She was a person who loved humanity. And if there was any love in your soul, you would reciprocate with my wife. And that's really what has allowed us to do what we've been able to do," Donald Goodrich said.

David Edwards, a professor of anthropology at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and an Afghanistan expert, at first discouraged Goodrich's idea of starting a school after seeing other well-intentioned projects go awry. But before he knew it, he had agreed to go to Logar province to inspect the school site.

"Sally had a kind of relentlessness to her, and I say that and it sounds like it could be a negative thing. But she had just a quality of determination that was really striking, but also a real sense of humor," he said.

Edwards ended up connecting her with Afghanistan's deputy minister of interior — his former research assistant. After meeting the provincial director of schools and the director of education, they found a better, safer site for the school, Edwards said. The Goodriches went on to build one for $230,000.

Goodrich had visited Afghanistan numerous times, met struggling Afghans and regained a sense of hope.

"I found that suffering is a universal language that allows for a greater understanding," she said in 2006.

She also was able to draw people into what she was doing.

"She had a way of seizing the right thing to do that people wanted to join," said Rick Derby, who is producing a documentary about the foundation's work. "It wasn't all about her. It was about the result."

Born in 1945, Goodrich spent most of her life in Vermont. After her first year of college she married Donald, then graduated from the University of Vermont and later earned master's degrees in education from Boston University and Simmons College. She was a teacher and a school administrator.

The Goodriches helped to bring at least 14 exchange students from Afghanistan to schools in New England, many of them staying in their small Vermont home during the summer and holidays. The students have gone on to get scholarships at colleges such as Williams, Mount Holyoke and Bates.

After Sept. 11, "you just have to start a new book," Donald Goodrich said. "All of your old assumptions are gone; they just don't work anymore. They're either believed to be false or suspicious, and you're largely on muscle memory and autopilot until you find something else to turn your life to, and this was it," he said.

Besides her husband, Goodrich is survived by another son, a daughter, three brothers and five grandchildren.