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Friday, September 15, 2006
*Bumped to Top*
In Memorium: Robert G. McIlvaine

A few weeks back, I signed up to participate in the 2,996 project, which seeks to recognize and remember each of the 2,996 victims of the September 11th attacks.

The person we are remembering is Robert G. McIlvaine, a 26 year-old Princeton graduate who was on the 106th floor of the North tower attending a seminar/conference.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. Bob McIlvaine didn't work in the trade centers, but just happened to have an event there that day. It was only later in the day that it became apparent that McIlvaine was one of the potential victims. His remains were recovered that Thursday and identified soon thereafter by dental records. On Saturday, his employer, Merrill Lynch, issued this statement regarding his death. The company also issued a more comprehensive statement honoring Bob a day later, which can be viewed here.

McIlvaine was a pretty amazing guy. Consider that, at the age of 26 years old, he was already an assistant vice-president of media relations for Merrill Lynch. As someone who worked for a few years in media relations -- albeit on the government side of things -- I'm pretty sure that advancement to that level of responsibility at age 26 is pretty rare, suggesting that he had already been recognized as a rising star by his colleagues. Before joining Merrill Lynch, McIlvaine worked for the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, and prior to that for Vintage Books.

McIlvaine grew up just north of Philadelphia in Oreland, PA and graduated from Princeton in 1997. According to a memorial page posted by Princeton University, he was one of at least 13 Princeton University grads to die in the attacks.

Bob McIlvaine was survived by his parents, Bob and Helen, and a brother, Jeff. He was engaged to be married to Jennifer Cobb (a Princeton University photo of the couple appears on the right side of the page). Our hearts and prayers go out to Jennifer and the entire Mcilvaine family on this fifth anniversary.

It is important to remember Bob and all the victims that died on that horrible day. Of course, this tribute pales in comparison to others that had more direct contact, either with Bob, his family or his friends. For this reason, I think it is appropriate to post two of those tributes here. Our policy is usually to only excerpt other materials, but given the length of these tributes and the importance of doing justice to Bob McIlvaine, I am posting both of them in their entirety below.

The first is from the New York Times, which published this tribute on September 19th:

Only One Dream Short

Growing up in Oreland, Pa., Robert G. McIlvaine had three dreams: to get a degree from Princeton, to experience life in New York City and to work at the heart of the financial universe.

"Bob achieved all three dreams," said Andre Parris, who was his college roommate for all four years before they graduated in 1997.

An assistant vice president for media relations at Merrill Lynch in the World Financial Center, Robert, 26, was representing his company in a banking conference on the 106th floor of 1 World Trade Center when the attack occurred.

"To him, New York was the center of everything, the place to be," said Mr. Parris, adding that Robert was about to make another dream come true: he and his fiancée, Jennifer Elizabeth Cobb, were making plans to marry.

"I've known Bob eight years," Mr. Parris said, "and I feel that he had finally come into his own as a person."

It should be acknowledged that the New York Times did a spectacular job putting together tributes for all the victims of the September 11th attacks. This was an important job and the reporters and editors deserve our thanks for making sure that we had the chance to hear about each and every one of the people who were lost to us on that day.

The second tribute is really heartfelt, and it comes from one of Bob's close friends at Princeton. It appeared here in the Princeton Alumni Weekly:

Robert G. McIlvaine ’97

On the day that Bob died, September 11, 2001, Bob and I had been roommates for eight years running, dating back to our very first day at Princeton. He was such a close friend, such a central figure in my life for so long, I don’t know how I can adequately begin to describe him or our friendship in such a limited space. Those who knew Bob well understand, silently, what a tremendous person not only we, but the world, lost. For those who knew him less well, or didn’t know him at all, all I can try to do is convey a sense of who Bob McIlvaine was.

It’s pretty safe to say that at Princeton, most people are “smart.” But, Bob — he was more than “smart.” To me, it appeared as if he entered Princeton already a seasoned academic. The guy devoured books: the fiction of Toni Morrison, essays by Cornel West, even stuff on business and Wall Street. His wide-ranging interests — in history, politics, race, and culture — were both profound and real. His mind was a sponge. Listening to Bob speak offhandedly about these subjects inspired those around him to deepen their own understanding of the world’s inner mechanisms.

His ferocious appetite for knowledge was suitably matched with incredible writing skills. For as long as I knew Bob, he harbored a secret desire to one day be a successful writer. Long after he had graduated from Princeton, Bob continued to explore ideas through his writing. Over the course of his life, he filled countless journals and later, yellow legal pads, which contained what he called “passages,” but which I’m pretty sure were the faint, first scribblings of a novel.

But Bob was more than a person of dazzling intellect. On a personal level, he invested heavily in all of his relationships, making sure that he took the time to deeply understand the people that were near and dear to him. As a close friend, he became an indispensable part of my everyday life, acting as a sort of moral compass, advising me on decisions, both large and small.

After talking with Bob’s friends, family, and coworkers I believe that amidst all the emotions, admiration is what people felt most for Bob. In many ways he represented a better version of our selves, of what we all strive to be. To many people, myself included, he was nothing short of a hero. Although I was never sure how, I always thought that Bob would one day become famous. An acclaimed novelist, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, these accomplishments were all, I felt, fully within Bob’s reach. Everywhere he went, in everything he did, Bob excelled. Everything he set out to accomplish, he achieved. Bob was unstoppable.

He will always be remembered.

By Ken Senior ’97

Donations can be made to Princeton University, the Robert G. McIlvaine Memorial Fund, Office of the Recording Secretary, Princeton University, Box 5357, Princeton, NJ 08543.

I want to make a special note of two things: first, I'd encourage everyone who reads this site to donate, if they can, to the Robert G. McIlvaine Memorial Fund mentioned at the end of Mr. Senior's article. The money goes to a scholarship fund at Princeton set up in Robert McIlvaine's name. As far as I can tell, McIlvaine was a working class guy who worked really hard to get through Princeton. It's an expensive school and it would be a great legacy if we helped some kid get through Princeton so they could live out their dreams in the same way that Bob did before he died.

Here is the foundation web site, which includes information on where to send your donations, for those who are interested.

The second thing I feel I have to mention is Bob McIlvaine's father, who is also named Bob. As anyone reading this site can tell, we come at the news from a conservative perspective. Based on various news reports, which I will not link to because this isn't the place, it is clear that Mr. McIlvaine doesn't share our views on politics or the meaning and consequences of September 11th. I hope I speak for all of us here at SCG when I say that, when it comes to honoring the memory of Bob and other victims, we believe it is more important to focus on what we all share -- a deep sorrow for everything that was lost on September 11th. We have only had the chance to get a small glimpse of Bob's life from various newspaper articles and tributes and we can only imagine the pain that all of the victims' families feel from the loss of so many sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, wives and husbands on that day.

If any of Bob's friends or family visit here, please know that we honor Bob here not to make a political point, but because we believe it is important that we never forget what we really lost that day wasn't buildings or a skyline, but a lot of good and decent people.

Our hearts and prayers go out to all of the families and friends of the victims. May God Bless us all.

Small editing note: There is some disagreement as to where McIlvaine was on September 11th. One article not linked here suggests he was on the 103rd floor of the south tower, while the Merrill Lynch release says the 106th floor of the north tower. I chose to go with the information given out by the company because I judged the source to be more credible.

Also, I am post-dating this essay so it is bumped to the top through September 15th.

Thank you for coming up with an appropriate way to mark this day and remember all of what we lost.
Bob sounds like a great person. Even before I finished reading the tribute, I thought, it doesn't matter if Bob is one of the SCG or a group of SLG, the world is better with him in it. This was stated very well by TJ. Thanks, TJ, for a classy and thoughtful way to mark this anniversary.
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