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TO THE END, A WOMAN LOOKS OUT FOR OTHERS

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, Margaret Walier Seeliger hustled her employees out of their offices on the 100th floor of the South Tower.

One by one, they crowded into an elevator, but space was limited, so Seeliger, a native of Lake View, volunteered to stay behind and take the stairs.

They made it out alive. She never did.

"I'm not surprised, because she knows the value of family," said Sally Ann Mosey-Walier, her sister-in-law. "She was taking care of family; in this case, her family at work."

Even now, a week after the deadly attack, some family members hold out hope that she might be alive. Officially, she is listed as missing, one of the thousands still unaccounted for.

One thing is certain: If she is gone, Margaret Walier Seeliger died a hero.

Family members, some of them still living in this area, have heard from co-workers eager to talk about her selfless act of courage.

"That was Margaret," said her father, Arthur Walier. "That's her makeup. She always looked out for others. She's the most wonderful, caring person in the world. She would do anything for anybody."

As director of underwriting for Combined Insurance Co., a division of Aon Corp., Seeliger, 34, oversaw about 20 employees. All but two or three were on the elevator and made it out of the building.

She and the others took the stairs, and the last anyone saw of her was in the stairwell shortly before the second plane hit the trade center.

Her father, a Lake View resident doing business nearby in New Jersey, watched the ordeal unfold on television, holding out hope that maybe, just maybe, his daughter was traveling as she often did for Aon.

When it became clear that she was not, he and six of Seeliger's seven brothers -- one was in California and could not get a flight out -- agreed to meet in Manhattan to look for her. They came from Buffalo, Rochester and Philadelphia.

"My kids have always gathered around," he said Tuesday. "They're always there for each other."

Unable to get into Manhattan, the Waliers scoured northern New Jersey, canvassing hospitals, looking for a Jane Doe that might turn out to be Margaret Seeliger.

And then came some good news -- news that heartbreakingly proved untrue.

Shortly after the attack, Aon posted a list of its employees on the company Web site. The list indicated that Seeliger had made it out of the South Tower and was safe.

The information proved wrong.

"We've had these bouts of hope," said Mosey-Walier. "But then we were crushed again and again. It's been very, very hard."

A few days later, more help arrived when Seeliger's high school and college friends showed up in New York City. They came to be with her husband, Bruce, a prosecutor in the Bronx district attorney's office, and the rest of the family.

"They came from Buffalo, Vermont and Philadelphia," her father said. "They just had to be there."

The outpouring of support may seem unusual to some, but not to those who knew Margaret Wailer, a 1985 Frontier Central High School graduate who went on to the State University at Stony Brook. She provoked that type of loyalty in friends.

"She was always so animated, so bubbly, so dynamic," said Monsignor John W. Zeitler, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Lake View, a family friend for more than a decade.

And of her role in Tuesday's attack?

"She was a hero," he said, "and that didn't surprise me at all. She was that type of person, a real take-charge person."

Still hopeful that Margaret might be alive, the Walier family nevertheless is holding a memorial service. It will be held at noon Saturday in the school hall at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 2052 Lakeview Road, Lake View. A second service will be held in Manhattan.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in her name to the Western New York Alzheimer's Association, or to the families of the New York City police and firefighters killed in the attack.

"She was a leader and she really cared for the people she worked with," said Paul Walier, a brother. "I'm not surprised at all by what she did. She was a good person, someone who would help anyone."

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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