Remarks by Professor Lawrence Mason Jr., Syracuse University Remembrance and Lockerbie Ambassador

I am humbled to be here today. I want to thank Chancellor Syverud, who appointed me as Syracuse University’s Remembrance and Lockerbie Ambassador. I am honored to represent this great university that has meant so much to me.

This role is deeply personal and meaningful to me because I taught eight of the Syracuse students who lost their lives 30 years ago today. I recall years of frustration wanting to do something to help heal this terrible wound but finding no practical way to do that. By 1996, while teaching photography at Syracuse University London and needing some sense of closure, I decided to take my class of students for a visit to Lockerbie. We spent an afternoon and an evening there, touring all the principal Pan Am disaster sites. Many tears were shed that day. We all had transformative experiences and, I think, found some of that desired closure. When we left town, I probably thought I would never see Lockerbie again. But when I had the good fortune to teach Lockerbie Scholar Allison Younger less than two years later, she helped me learn that I did not see the real Lockerbie during my visit. I decided to go back, and did so in the fall of 1999 with my next class from SU London. My first photography teacher, Tom Richards, once told me, “Photograph what you love.” It was during my second trip that I fell in love with Lockerbie as the community began to reveal itself to me. I have been back 14 more times since then, and have spent much of the last three decades thinking, photographing and writing about Lockerbie and people impacted by the Pan Am 103 tragedy.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard has written, “According to the second law of thermodynamics, things fall apart. Structures disintegrate. By creating things, by thinking up new combinations, we counteract this flow of entropy. We make new structures, new wholeness, so the universe comes out even.” Ms. Dillard’s thoughts on building new rewarding relationships provide a thoroughly modern interpretation of religious teaching. Going back 3,000 years or so all the major religions of the world have asked us to serve others by performing constructive acts of kindness in their honor.

For 30 years, Syracuse University, through its Remembrance commemorations and its Remembrance Scholarship program, has engaged in a process called “Look Back. Act Forward.” This year, part of our Remembrance week commemorations included handing out 235 large buttons, each bearing the name of one of the non-Syracuse victims of Pan Am Flight 103. We asked the button recipients to wear these buttons through the week’s activities. Here’s what happened.

Brian Asher, headmaster of Lockerbie Academy, was randomly assigned a button in memory of Judith Bernstein Atkinson. On his way to a reception, he encountered a family who complimented him on his comments at the just-concluded Remembrance Convocation. As they spoke to him, they stopped as one of them stared at the button Brian Asher wore and said to his wife, “Sandra, that’s your sister!” They went on to have a deep and fulfilling conversation about their links such as the fact that, like Brian Asher, Judith Atkinson had studied to be a teacher at Glasgow.

Second, people wearing the buttons typically took the time to learn about the victims they represented. I was provided with a bag of 25 buttons to distribute. Glancing through the names on them, I noticed a familiar one, Helga Mosey. Ms. Mosey is buried at Tundergarth Church, just across the road from where the Pan Am 103 nose cone landed. I’ve noticed Helga’s gravestone for years and photographed it several times. When I was in Lockerbie in early October of this year, I stopped as usual at Helga Mosey’s grave. She had a brand new headstone this year. Because of this history of familiarity, I assigned Helga’s button to my wife, who went online immediately to learn about “her” victim. This happened a lot, and it ended up being extremely meaningful to many of those who represented the victims during Syracuse University’s Remembrance Week.

The famed British graffiti artist known as Banksey used a quote in his book that has much relevance about Remembrance. He wrote, “They say you die twice. One time is when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” When I learned this quote it struck me as being at the heart of Remembrance. We can’t reverse the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, but we can extend the memories of its victims into the distant future by learning about them, saying their names and working for a better world in their memory by forging new connections and friendships.

Doing small things with great love changes people, sometimes in ways that do not manifest for many years.

In 2003, when I was in Lockerbie working on our book, “Looking for Lockerbie,” a young girl named Brittany wandered into where my team was shooting at the Somerton Hotel. I asked how old she was. She raised her eyes skyward in thought and said in her lovely accent, “Em, uh doon’t new.” Her mom told us that she was barely 5. I photographed Brittany and used her picture in my book. A few weeks ago, Brittany contacted me. She’s 20-years-old now and in college, studying photography in Glasgow. She needed my help. She was working on an assignment about a photographer who most influenced her. She chose to write about me!

Let me tell you, this had a profound impact on how I think about our interaction when she was 5-years-old, and in fact, about all interactions I have with others. We are all like Johnny Appleseed, planting little “seeds” and creating memories that may, over time, bear profound effects. This is but one small example of the untold thousands of positive effects and connections my students and I may have caused because of our efforts to honor the victims of Pan Am Flight 103.

The great film director Stanley Kubrick once said, “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” Here on the shortest and darkest day of the year, I implore you to spread your own light in an uncertain world. We honor the victims of Pan Am 103 by being our best selves in their memory. Go forward in the world and do something beautiful.

Thank you.