Countless times, she went out to walk Dylan, her Dalmation, only to come back and grab a pair of her husband Patrick’s trousers or gloves for a shivering vagrant she’d befriended.
Relatives dubbed Debbie Welsh, 49, “The Little Apostle of the Airlines” after discovering that she often left Newark airport with a stack of unused airline meals. After she rode home on the bus, she’d hand it out to homeless folks between her bus stop and apartment.
But soft-hearted didn’t mean soft-willed.
Welsh “didn’t take any crap from anyone” and embraced life in a diverse neighborhood with rough edges, said Patrick Welsh, 44, an actor and Pittsburgh native whose parents grew up in Emsworth and McKeesport. She’d traveled alone all over the world, hiking in South America and surviving a near-fatal bout of pneumonia in Bali.
When an elderly neighbor was knocked down by a bicyclist using the sidewalk, Welsh was incensed. After that, she’d shoo away bike messengers or scooter riders, bellowing: “It’s a side-WALK, not a side-RIDE, you idiot!”
A native of Darby, Pa., Welsh worked for Bell Telephone Co. after she graduated from high school, and was among the original Flyerette hostesses for Philadelphia Flyers hockey games. Her desire to travel led her to join now-defunct Eastern Airlines in 1972.
After strikes crippled Eastern in the late 1980s, she briefly waited tables in a Greenwich Village restaurant and developed a “Sam-and-Diane” relationship with Patrick, the bartender hired the day after her. The Welshes married in 1991 and were active at St. Paul the Apostle church in Manhattan, where Debbie sang in the choir and Patrick was a lector and parish-council member.
Welsh later flew with Kiwi International Airlines before moving to United. She wasn’t scheduled to fly Sept. 11, but had traded shifts with a co-worker.
“I don’t think it was a mistake that she was on that flight,” her husband said. “She was instrumental, like all those other brave people on that flight, in saving the lives of thousands of people.”