Alex McIlvaine was a St Andrews School junior when our son, a freshman, decided to try his hand (or feet) at cross country. Alex was one of several gifted runners on that team but that excellence did not prevent him from dropping back from the lead on training runs to talk with the newer runners, encourage them and build the kind of rapport that made training runs fun for everyone.

Alex and I met when I was encouraged by their coach, Dan O’Connell, to join the XC team on Fall training runs. At age 68 in my son’s first year, I was the ideal person to symbolize to the team the benefits and joys of lifelong training and competing. But to Alex that life lesson was not needed. To him I was simply a new friend, a fellow runner. To Alex I wasn’t an object lesson. I was just me.

Thereafter, when we’d run into each other on campus, or after St. Andrews on Facebook, Alex would break away from other things he was doing and come over and ask how I was doing, where I was competing and how my latest races were going.

That was Alex. A quick, ready smile, a great laugh, an easy camaraderie, genuine warmth, authentic interest in everyone and kindness that overflowed. One of a kind. Irreplaceable. Immortal.  

John Wm. Thomas is St. Andrews School P’16. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor to remember Alex McIlvaine, please submit it to and include your name and affiliation with Duke.