20 years after 9/11, Mountain Brook woman’s legacy remains larger than her death

Alabama News

An undated photo of Lynn Edwards Angell reading to students at Hillsides School in Pasadena, California. (Courtesy of Hillsides)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — David Angell didn’t get there alone.

David Angell, executive producer of the NBC television series “Frasier,” who was traveling on American Airlines Flight 11 with his wife, Lynn, before it crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)

In 1984, Angell was nominated for his first Emmy award for an episode of “Cheers” he had written during the show’s second season. Years of struggling had led up to that night.

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In 1977, the former technical writer and his wife, Lynn, decided to make the trip from their home in Rhode Island to Los Angeles to see if he could make it as a TV writer. Lynn, who grew up in Mountain Brook and went to Auburn University, supported them both as a librarian as Angell worked odd jobs and wrote at night. She was even known to read and critique some of his early scripts.

David and Lynn had a deal with one another: if he didn’t “make it” in TV after five years, they would go back home east.

“They used to joke that they were one suitcase unpacked from going back home,” said Sally Reeder, a longtime friend of the Angells.

The story goes that just as David was ready to give it up, one of his spec scripts for the show “Archie Bunker’s Place,” got bought and he was hired as a staff writer. It wouldn’t be long before he got hired to work on “Cheers.”

On the night of the 1984 awards show, Angell won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing on a Comedy Series. Walking up to the stage, Angell thanked his bosses at “Cheers,” his family, and his parents. However, he saved the most important person in his life for last.

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Lynn Edwards Angell, left, and her husband, David, in 1995. (Courtesy Tom and Sally Reeder)

“And finally, for all her love and support, I’d like to thank my wife, Lynn,” Angell said. “This is yours too, honey.”

Angell would go on to help create shows like “Wings” and “Frasier,” becoming one of the biggest producers in television at the time. On September 11, 2001, Angell and Lynn were on Flight 11 that was hijacked and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Because of his reputation in the industry, Angell’s name was often mentioned before his wife when news outlets covered 9/11.

However, for those who knew the Angells the best, it was common knowledge that you rarely said “David” or “Lynn”: you would said “David and Lynn.”

“They were a team,” Reeder said. “Lynn and Dave supported each other and supported each other’s loves.”

A giving heart

Raised in Mountain Brook, Lynn Edwards Angell wanted to make a difference.

Lynn Edwards Angell pictured during her senior year at Shades Valley High School in 1967. (Courtesy of the Linn-Henley Research Library)

She grew up in Mountain Brook and by the time she graduated from Shades Valley High School in 1967, she had already been co-head cheerleader, was secretary of her senior and sophomore classes, was in the French Club, and took part in intramural sports.

“She was very happy and outgoing,” said Dr. Thomas Edwards, Lynn’s brother.

Going on to Auburn University, Lynn pledged at Alpha Delti Pi sorority and studied to become a teacher. One summer, she left Alabama to take a job waitressing at a restaurant on Cape Cod. At the same time, Angell was working in the pro shop at a nearby country club. The rest is the stuff of love stories.

“She went back the next year and they decided to get married,” Edwards said.

The Angells got married in Birmingham in 1971, not long after Lynn had graduated from Auburn. After the wedding, they moved up North so David could finish his time in the military. After getting out, she got another degree in library science and became a librarian.

As Angell started to get more work in television, Lynn cut back on her work, but gave more of herself through different causes. Causes such as Hillsides School, a special program in Pasadena for children who’ve suffered physical and emotional abuse. At Hillsides, Lynn picked many of the books in the library, gave money to fund a better facility and often volunteered.

“Lynn created the most magical place for Hillsides children to be exposed to books,” said Carrie Espinoza, chief advancement officer at Hillsides. “She read to them while they sat on the oversized sofa she personally selected for the library so they could be comfortable.” 

An undated photo of Lynn Edwards Angell reading to students at Hillsides School in Pasadena, California. (Courtesy of Hillsides)

Lynn also made time for her friends, often playing golf with them. Reeder remembered how every summer, the Angells would leave California to vacation at their second home in Cape Cod. One year when she came back, she saw how much she treasured their friendship.

“When she came back, the three of us were playing golf and she said ‘I learned something about myself. I don’t like golf; I like you guys,’” she said.

Although she spent most of her adult life away from Alabama, Lynn kept her roots, always checking on Auburn football and coming back when she could.

“She never lost her Southern graciousness and charm,” nephew Chris Edwards said. “Even living a cosmopolitan life in LA, she had this easy way about her.”

Although the Angells would later become philanthropists through their standing in the entertainment industry, Edwards remembers how big his sister’s heart was early on. Once, when they were children, Edwards remembers going to church in the city on Sunday and seeing a Black family being turned away. It’s a sight she never forgot.

“That affected her whole life,” he said.

Edwards saw that heart up close during a trip the Angells took down to Selma with Edwards and his wife. Driving around town one day, he remembers how both Lynn and David were appalled with some of the rundown houses. Soon after, they worked with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a family in need.

David and Lynn Angell in Cape Cod, Mass. in 1999. (Courtesy Sally and Tom Reeder)

“When they saw a need, they wanted to try and fill it,” Edwards said.

That need to give would later become the Angell Foundation, which they started a few years before they died and is still going. However, much of their giving during their lives flew under the radar.

“Because of their involvement with their various charities, things like that are still thriving because of what they were able to finance,” Tom Reeder said. “They didn’t have children, but they influenced the lives of so many children.”

Even though David may have had more name recognition due to his work, those who knew the Angells best knew them as a team who supported one another. Lynn would often visit Angell on the set of “Frasier” while Angell would often go to functions at Lynn’s school, all while never drawing attention to themselves.

Despite the wealth and opportunity that Hollywood had provided them, those things never seemed important to them.

“You would not have known that Dave and Lynn had a lot of money,” Edwards said. “They were just not taken with themselves at all.”

‘Everyone’s lives were upended

The last time the Reeders saw the Angells was that June, just before the Angells were flying out to their second home in Cape Cod.

“They were heading back to the Cape and they were going to spend the summer working on their home that was going to be their dream home,” Reeder said.

Smoke billows from the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center before they collapsed on September 11, 2001 in New York, NY. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

On 9/11, the Angells drove from Cape Cod to Boston to catch a flight back to Los Angeles in time for the Emmys that weekend.

Sally’s husband, Tom, said Lynn had sent Sally an email the night before she and David boarded Flight 11, telling her about how they needed to make plans to get together when they were back in California.

“By the time she had found it, it was too late,” he said.

It was a little before 6 a.m. in California by the time Flight 11 hit the North Tower in Manhattan. By the time Tom was listening to the news on the radio, Sally had remembered that the Angells were supposed to be flying in that day.

“She said ‘They wouldn’t be coming on that plane because they would not be flying that early,’” Reeder said, adding how Lynn was not “a morning person.”

In Alabama, Edwards was at work when his wife, Rennie, called to tell him what had happened. Like the Reeders, Edwards knew the Angells were supposed to be flying back to Los Angeles that day.

“My wife said ‘Do you think David and Lynn could be on that plane,’ and I said ‘No way,'” Edwards said.

The Reeders tried calling their house, but no one answered. Then, they tried calling American Airlines, who didn’t provide any information. Before long, they learned what happened.

“Everyone’s lives were upended,” he said. “We were all struggling to make sense of something you can’t make sense of.”

Five days later, a memorial service was held in Los Angeles for the Angells. During the service, “Cheers” co-creator Les Charles said the couple were good people who were always thoughtful and generous with everyone.

Lynn and David Angell’s names at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Manhattan. (Courtesy Tom and Sally Reeder)

“They loved their families, their friends, their interests, their work, their homes, and, most of all, they loved each other,” Charles said. “These things made them happy, and they embraced them and that was, for them, the real meaning of success. It’s why they’ll never strike me as tragic.”

In 2006, The Birmingham News talked to Lynn’s mother, Marilyn, who still found her death too difficult to talk about.

”It doesn’t seem to get any easier,” said Marilyn Edwards, who died in 2016, “I thought it would, but it isn’t.”

Twenty years later, there is still something difficult and unresolved about Lynn and David’s deaths for Tom Edwards.

“You don’t forget and you really can’t forgive,” he said.

Edwards said that in the wake of his sister’s death, he and his mother became much closer and leaned on one another as they grieved. Today, Edwards and other members of the family make a point to call each other every Sept. 11 to support one another and remember the good times with Lynn.

Lynn Edwards Angell pictured here by the pool in 1999. (Courtesy Sally and Tom Reeder)

“Over time, you just realize that at some point, you’re going to go and life is pretty precious,” Edwards said. “You just don’t know when it’s going to happen.”

In addition to the foundation, her family, and the many memories she left behind, Lynn’s legacy also lives on through the library at Hillsides. In 2002, it was renamed as the Lynn Angell Memorial Children’s Library.

“I hope some of those kids are saying ‘Who are Lynn and David Angell,'” Tom Reeder said.

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