The annual 9/11 memorial ceremony Tuesday at Montana State University Billings City College was missing its most ardent supporter. Faculty member Elizabeth Fullon passed away on Sept. 5 after a sudden illness.
Fullon, a City College teacher for 11 years and retired U.S. Air Force reservist, obtained a grant that helped bring a 600-pound chunk of I-beam from one of the Twin Towers to Billings for the memorial centerpiece. Two 16-foot, shiny steel tube towers created by City College welders stand over the rusted metal salvaged from Ground Zero.
Her vision was to honor the police, fire and emergency medical crews who responded to the 9/11 attacks. More than 400 first responders were among nearly 3,000 people killed that day. Collaborating with long-time fire science program director Gary Edwards, Fullon saw her vision become the memorial now in the heart of the City College campus.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Fullon was a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard working at a Cape Cod base. Fighter jets from that base were the first to be scrambled to fly over New York after hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers. Fullon and other base personnel were put on alert and worked around the clock for months.
Military service has been a tradition in Fullon’s family for four generations. Her own 20 years in the military included being an F-15 jet mechanic and a training manager.
At Tuesday’s 9/11 event, Chancellor Dan Edelman recalled that Fullon had brought him to see the memorial when he came to interview for his new job this spring. Edelman placed a wreath of red, white and blue flowers in her honor. Students brought several more wreaths to honor those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. Sen. Steve Daines and Mayor Bill Cole spoke briefly, then Billings and Lockwood Fire Departments and AMR ambulance sounded their emergency vehicle sirens for a full minute, before a student played taps.
Such events unify us, said Edelman, noting Fullon placed great value on civic engagement. He named her interim dean in May after Dean Clifford Coppersmith left Billings for a new job. The college announced on Aug. 31 that Fullon had withdrawn as interim dean because of a health issue and Florence Garcia was named to the interim post effective Sept. 5.
“Elizabeth Fullon was a global thinker,” Garcia told The Gazette Wednesday. “She spoke five languages and lived in at least five different countries. She was humble and generous and always wanted to shine the spotlight on somebody else.”
In the days after Fullon’s death, “I had inconsolable students in my office who said she was the best,” said Anne Cole, a City College instructor whose office is next door to Fullon’s. “She was extremely dedicated. She was the center of activity to support veterans.”
In addition to chairing the general education department, teaching writing and communications and her stint as interim dean, Fullon served as adviser to the campus veterans club. She was instrumental in getting the new, larger, more welcoming veterans lounge at City College. The college connected with veterans this summer to identify ways they can get college credit for their military training — thanks to a grant Fullon obtained.
In the years since the memorial was dedicated in 2011, Fullon spoke at the annual ceremony, sharing her experiences in the Ground Zero aftermath with college students, including many too young to remember that day.
“When they’re really ready to give up I tell them to go out and think about the firefighters climbing one more step, one more floor to save one more life,” she said at the 2016 ceremony.
A memorial service for Elizabeth Fullon is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Oct. 8 in the City College Great Room in the Health Sciences Building off Shiloh Road.