Alice Hoagland, a beloved figure of the gay rugby movement that her own son Mark Bingham, helped set in motion shortly before he perished in the 2001 terrorist attacks as one of the heroes of Flight 93, has died. She was 71.
Hoagland, a former flight attendant who became a safety activist while carrying on her son's athletic legacy, died Dec. 22 in her sleep at her home in Los Gallos, California, after battling Addison’s disease, according to longtime family friend Amanda Mark.
International Gay Rugby — an organization that traces its roots to one team in London in 1995 and now consists of about 90 clubs in more than 20 countries on five continents — held Hoagland in such esteem that one of the prizes at its biennial Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament, or the Bingham Cup, is called the Hoagland Cup.
Scott Glaessgen, of Norwalk, Connecticut, a friend of Bingham's who helped organize New York's Gotham Knights rugby club, described meeting Hoagland at the first Bingham Cup in 2002 in San Francisco.
"Nine months after Mark was killed, and there she is with a never-ending smile on her face, just charming and engaging and happy and proud," Glaessgen said. "And that resilience and that strength that she just exuded was really inspirational."
Amanda Mark, of Sydney, Australia, praised Hoagland for always fighting for people — and continuing to do so after losing her son by standing up for aviation safety and LGBT rights.
"Through the Bingham Cup," Mark said, "she became the inspiration and the acceptance that a lot of LGBT folks needed when they may have been challenged with their families or friends to be true to themselves."
Bingham, 31 when he died, had played on a champion rugby team at the University of California, Berkeley. He helped organize the gay San Francisco Fog team in 2000 and quickly became its main forward.
He was on United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, when hijackers commandeered it. He called his mother and told her he loved her.
"I only got 3 minutes with him and when I tried to call back, I couldn't get through," Hoagland told the Iowa City Press-Citizen in 2019. "As a flight attendant for 20 years, I wanted to tell him to sit down and don't draw attention to yourself."
But the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Bingham fought back, posthumously winning praise as an openly gay patriot who joined other passengers in foiling the hijackers and causing the plane to crash in rural Pennsylvania instead of its intended target, believed to be the U.S. Capitol.
"He grew from a shy, chubby kid into a tall rugby competitor with the ability to amass his energy to face a real enemy in the cockpit of an airplane,” Hoagland told the Press-Citizen.
Bingham and Hoagland’s stories went on to be chronicled in film and screen, including the TV movie "Flight 93,” HBO's “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" and the documentary "The Rugby Player." Hoagland became an advocate for airline security and for allowing relatives of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia over claims it played a role in the attacks.
"We're less interested in any kind of financial gain than we are in bringing the truly guilty into court and making our case known," Hoagland told The Associated Press in 2016.
The first Bingham Cup consisted of eight teams and was hosted by its namesake’s home team. Today, it is billed as the world's largest amateur rugby event, and cities bid to host it. It was last held in Amsterdam in 2018 with 74 teams competing.
Hoagland was a celebrity at every tournament she attended. Players flocked to meet her and have a photo taken. She always obliged.
Jeff Wilson, of International Gay Rugby, recalled in a post on the organization’s Facebook page a conversation with Hoagland at the 2012 Bingham Cup in Manchester, England. His mother had recently died.
"I asked how she kept on during grief — she said it was a purpose, and a calling and that I would keep going because it drove me," he wrote. "Her compassion, heart and focus on others touched me in ways that I cannot express."
No memorial service is yet planned.
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