Bob McIlvaine (Robert McIlvaine) inadvertently taught me a major life lesson that I still practice today. I met Bob 10 years ago during my first college internship. I spent the summer working in the media relations department of Merill Lynch, which was located in the World Financial center.
The World Financial Center was made up of two towers that were situated across the street from the Twin Towers, which were connected by The Winter Garden, an area that was filled with shops and restaurants. The Winter Garden was a circular structure that linked all of its surrounding buildings by bridges.
I spent almost every day of summer 2001 traveling through The Winter Garden to get to work. I also watched Bob McIlvaine, a new hire that everyone raved about, going in and out of his office, always in a rush. Interning for Merrill Lynch was intimidating. I was a teenager experiencing a taste of adult life in the corporate world. Observing these people dressed in suits, working at a frantic pace was something that took me a while to get used to.
When Bob wasn’t in a dash, he was in his office on the phone, making moves. He had a distinct, professional and proficient way of pronouncing his name and addressing clients. I can still hear him speaking. I never made eye contact with him, and never had to work with him but I was relieved because he made me nervous. I just assumed that he was mean because he seemed so stern and no nonsense. I breezed through all of June and most of July that summer without really having to interact with him, but I held on to preconceived notions about him biting my head off if I attempted to say hello. Yet, everyone else seemed to love him and I didn’t understand it. My theory was that he was nice to them because they weren’t interns and that I couldn’t dare cross that line.
But then one day, on a rare slow day where he had no meetings, he stepped out of his office and said hello. My heart almost beat out of my chest because it was inviting, charismatic and…normal.
He was so nice, so warm and offered to take me to lunch. Our first luncheon occurred in early August, three weeks until the end of my internship and nearly a month before the fateful day that would change all American lives forever.
What Bob and I talked about during the three times we broke bread isn’t as important as the lesson I learned from him. In that short time that we spent getting to know each other I discovered a warm man who was good at what he did, had an interest in literature⎯particularly African-American literature⎯and who had a fiancé that he was utterly in love with.
I finally got the hype about Bob and why the staff loved him. This may sound cliché but he was a man who was going places. It was something you just knew after talking with him for five minutes. I went back to school touched by my experience because it was the first time that I had effectively learned not to judge anyone by appearances. I had heard that I shouldn’t judge books by covers my whole life, but my encounter with Bob forced me to actually put the idea into practice.
On September 11, 2001, I woke up to news of the first plane crashing and immediately imagined the faces of my former co-workers. I began calling everyone I could, mostly with no luck because the phone lines were jammed but eventually I got through to some people and accounted for almost everyone being alive. I didn’t have Bob’s number but when the dust settled I found out that he perished. What would have been a typical busy day for him started as a business meeting at Windows on the World, a restaurant located on the 106 and 107 floors of the North Tower. I teared up as at typed that just thinking about the horrible way he (and everyone else caught up in that tragedy) died.
I didn’t know him well but he still touched my life. He doesn’t know the valuable lesson that he taught me but hopefully a relative will read this and be proud of the man they raised him to be.
Dear Bob McIlvaine, you are gone but not forgotten.
Rest in Power to everyone who perished on September 11, 2001.
My message for anyone else reading this is be extraordinary. Even 30 seconds is enough to make an impact on someone else’s life. —Starrene Rhett
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