Brigitte Gerney, ‘Crane Lady’ Who Survived Collapse, Dies at 85

“What kept me alive is that he held my hand,” Mrs. Gerney said of Detective Ragonese.

He said at the time, “She is the most courageous man or woman I ever met.”

On the phone this week, he said: “There’s a point where a lot of people would have given up. She had a strong belief in God. The only thing she worried about was her children. She wanted them to know that their mother loved them.”

The accident and its aftermath were front-page news for more than a year. The contracting company and the construction foreman were convicted of assault and endangerment. The foreman was fined $5,000 and placed on five years’ probation. The crane operator, who was unlicensed and who had been ordered by the foreman to take over after the regular operator had left for the day, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault. He was spared a prison sentence after Mrs. Gerney urged compassion.

In 1988, she was awarded $10 million in damages, to be paid in monthly installments.

Brigitte Risch was born on March 14, 1936, in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, the second of eight children of Dr. Martin Risch, a physician and a member of the Liechtenstein Parliament, and Josephine Risch, a homemaker.

After graduating from high school, Brigitte attended secretarial school in Switzerland and worked as a secretary for a Russian émigré businessman. In 1966 she married Arkadi Gerney, the son of her boss and a trade representative for two steel companies, Blaw-Knox and Koppers. They moved to New York, where he had been based.

Their son managed the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and wrote about the shooting of his mother’s fiancé, Dr. Peter Rizzo, for The New Yorker.

“My mother was 50 when Peter was murdered,” Mr. Gerney wrote. “She never remarried. She never even dated again.”


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