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'He made Duke fun for me': Friends remember Alex McIlvaine for his inclusivity, kindness

Update: A memorial will be held Jan. 21 at 2:00 p.m. at Duke Chapel.

There was never a dull moment with senior Alex McIlvaine, nor one where he did not exhibit positivity, genuine kindness and compassion for others, remembered his friends.

McIlvaine, who died Dec. 24 at age 22, is survived by his parents Charlie and Brooke and siblings Andy and Brooke, as well as many friends at Duke and beyond. His friends raved about his ability to stay positive, make people happy and put others before himself, regardless of the situation.  

“He was a brother, someone you could count on to be available late at night, to cheer you up when you’re done studying for a test, someone who would make sure that his friends arrived safely,” said senior Ricardo Alvarez-Estarellas. “He made Duke fun for me, regardless of how down I was...This is really, really hard to believe, like, he’s gone. It will hit me really hard when we get back to Duke to not have someone hit me up after class.”

McIlvaine was beloved by his friends and brothers in Kappa Sigma fraternity, for which he served as rush chair for several years. His friends said he was always willing to help lift others up in times of adversity and make people feel included. 

He was a beacon of light, said Sachin Patel, Trinity '17 and former Kappa Sigma president. Patel added that McIlvaine took special care to include others who were not having a great time or did not feel comfortable.

“Any time anyone was down or struggling, he would step up and even come over to your place and talk to you about stuff,” Patel said. “He was really good at cheering people up and making people realize that a lot of things aren’t as serious as they seem they are in the moment. In college, everything seems super serious, even when it isn’t. He was great at making people realize that.”

Senior Melissa Carrico, who lived a couple doors down from McIlvaine in his first-year hall, said he was very generous with his time. 

If she was having a bad night out, he would leave the party to make sure she got home safely, a concern she said that he constantly exhibited as a friend. One time, Carrico had to be late to a date function. And when she arrived, stressed about being late, McIlvaine was there with her favorite drink ready and saying that he was glad she was there. 

“He was so kind,” Carrico said. “He was just a really great friend in every way, very thoughtful and conscientious.”

McIlvaine also supported everyone around him with his energy, which turned many everyday moments into exciting ones. Patel’s fondest memory of McIlvaine was when he had to pick up some supplies and return a U-Haul truck. 

With five inches of snow on the ground, McIlvaine volunteered to help Patel and got behind the wheel. 

Once they picked up the supplies, McIlvaine figured that since they had paid for the U-Haul already, they might as well have some fun with it, Patel said. McIlvaine tried to drift the truck in a parking lot covered with snow, which led to a fun time. 

When it was time to return the truck, the rental vehicle just couldn’t make it up a hill and got stuck in the snow. Luckily for them, a couple came out of nowhere with a truck and helped push it up the hill. 

“It was a really funny day that highlighted a lot of his personality,” Patel said. “One, he just jumped up at the opportunity to help out and get these tasks done. But at the same time, he made it really fun and entertaining. Classic Alex shenanigans ensued when it came down to what could have been a very simple, vanilla task at the end of the day.”

Many of his friends also described McIlvaine as having a larger-than-life personality that helped him make great friendships and maintain a positive attitude, a characteristic Patel said he always looked up to him for. Patel said that McIlvaine's personality helped unite their pledge class, which had a very diverse set of people. 

“Explaining it to people who didn’t know him is sometimes really tough because they don’t understand,” Patel said. “When he would walk in a room, he would make an entrance. He would say something funny and announce himself to an extent and everyone would get really excited that Alex was there.”

Alvarez-Estarellas echoed Patel’s sentiments, adding that he was comfortable in breaking the mold that some at Duke might feel forced into.  

“In a place where a lot of people fit a certain mold or attempted to fit a certain mold or a certain definition of success, Alex was unique,” Alvarez-Estarellas said. “His happiness truly came from making others happy and he was unique in his ability to empathize with everyone, to relate to everyone regardless of their specific mold.”

In addition to his brothers, those who worked with him at Duke Student Broadcasting—where he was the sports director for a year—raved about his passion for the job. Alvarez-Estarellas said McIlvaine wanted to pursue a career in sports media and that his personality would have suited him perfectly as a commentator or a broadcaster. 

Patel raved about his storytelling ability—he could get a lot of people to sit down and listen to a pretty long story just because he told it in such an entertaining way, he said. 

With DSB, he worked mostly on sports, men’s basketball in particular, where he would film games for highlights and reaction from coaches and players after the game. He also interned at Fox Sports in Los Angeles this past summer. 

He was incredibly passionate about sports, his friends said. A native of Darien, Conn., McIlvaine was an avid Philadelphia sports fan. That love of sports was something that Patel and Alvarez-Estarellas bonded with McIlvaine over—especially basketball. 

Senior Soren Chargois, who worked with McIlvaine on shooting video of Duke men’s basketball in their first and second years for DSB, added that he was a hard worker and someone that made the job fun.  

“It’s really funny because I would always get Snapchats from friends of us on the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and he’d always be the one filming,” Chargois said. “I’d be sitting on there on my phone sending Snapchats, and that was one of the great memories. He’d always work hard, and he was okay with me being myself.

Chargois’ favorite memory of McIlvaine was when the two traveled to Chicago in the fall of 2015 to shoot for the men’s basketball Champions Classic against Kentucky. After the game, the two were in the hotel around 11 p.m., and McIlvaine decided they should head out and do something. They ended up walking along the Chicago River for over two hours, talking about life. 

“It was a sentimental and serious side of him that I had never known before,” Chargois said. “Being able to spend time with him helped me see a deeper, more serious side. It’s one of my favorite memories.”

In the press room for one of the biggest college basketball programs in the country as an underclassmen, McIlvaine impressed Chargois with his poise. 

“Even when he was clueless as to what was going on, he had this ability to fake confidence unlike anyone else I had ever known,” Chargois said. 

Chargois added that while McIlvaine would wait for head coach Mike Krzyzewski to come in the media room for his post-game press conference, he would talk with reporters from ESPN and other outlets and ask for their business cards. 

“It was this total persona that should not have been coming out of a little freshman guy,” Chargois said. “I had always been inspired by that." 

Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


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