News & Politics

2008’s Washingtonians of the Year: James Laychak

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Jim Laychak was at home in Alexandria, watching the World Trade Center in flames on TV, when he felt his windows shake. Then he saw smoke, and he knew—it was the Pentagon.

His brother Dave, a civilian employee with the military, was working in the Pentagon that day. His father, a retired army officer; his uncle Jim; and his youngest brother, Mike, might have been there that day, too.

His dad, uncle, and Mike soon were accounted for. Jim waited for Dave to show up at his front door. He never came.

The Pentagon set up a family-assistance center at the Sheraton in Crystal City. Laychak was there every day, waiting for information and sharing the grief of other families. One day he put a note in the suggestion box at the center: “How are people going to remember this?”

Two months later, when the Pentagon launched a design competition to create a memorial for those who died that day, Laychak was asked to serve on the committee that would select a design. The families were clear about what they wanted—that the memorial represent each lost life and create a place for solace and healing.

Before long, Laychak was president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, leading the effort to raise the $30 million needed for the memorial.

“It seemed like everything I had done in my life helped prepare me,” Laychak says. He’d helped raise funds for his alma mater, George Mason University. He had made presentations as part of his job at Accenture. But it was his passion that made him so effective. Realizing that major funds were needed from foundations and corporations, Laychak turned to others to make the introductions. But he was the closer. “Get me into the meeting and make them say no to me,” he said. Not many did.

The memorial was dedicated in September, on the seventh anniversary of the tragedy. At the dedication, Laychak talked about the joy his brother Dave often expressed on special days. “Jimbo, today is a dish of a day,” he would say.

“That’s how I feel today,” Laychak said last September 11. “This memorial is a celebration of life.”

See all of the 2008 Washingtonians of the Year