September 18, 2001

Dear Mr. and Mrs. McNeal and Kathleen,

I was devastated this morning to hear of Dan's death. I've known Dan since our freshman year in college back in 1990. At the time, I was attending Georgetown University and was dating Chad Hobelmann, one of Dan's best friends from Loyola. In the early years, we saw a lot of Dan and I have such wonderful memories of him -- at parties at Georgetown, up in Boston at BC, on school holidays, during the summers, weekends at our cabin in the mountains, summer concerts, and formal Christmas parties - -the list goes on. Through all of it, Dan was always there with a smile, eager to find out what everyone else was doing with their lives. Always reluctant to take center stage and talk about his own life, Dan cared more about others than he did about himself. At first, I considered him as Chad's friend, a nice guy to hang around with from time to time. But as the years passed, I got to know Dan more and soon became proud to call him a friend of my own. When my relationship with Chad ended, I feared my relationship with Dan would too. Luckily, we not only stayed in touch, but we grew our friendship into one that's lasted for 11 years.

Without hesitation, I can say that Dan was one of the most decent and kind human beings I've ever had the privilege to know. I realize, at times like this, people always seem to say such all-encompassing things like that, but in this instance, it's the absolute truth. Dan was kind, honorable, compassionate, ambitious, energetic, funny, and most of all, generous. It saddens me so much to know that I won't ever see his sweet face again, see his bright smile, or hear him say something is "GREAT!!!" He had such incredible enthusiasm for other people and their happiness that he brightened the room no matter where he was. He always wanted to do right by people, no matter what, and be there for them. He hated to hear of others' adversity and was the first to jump in and lend a hand, whether it was as simple as giving someone a ride or cleaning up after a meal. One morning, after a party at our parent's house, I came down to see Dan sitting in the kitchen with a grin on his face. He was so proud of himself for cleaning up, going out to buy bagels, and then hiking out to get the morning paper for us at the end of our lane. He laughed for days when we told him that we didn't actually subscribe to the paper and that because of his zeal to lend a hand, some poor neighbor was without his copy of the Washington Post that morning!

My sister and I went out to lunch today to reflect. We started talking about all the great "Dan stories" we had. They were so numerous; we could have talked for days. He was always doing something new, whether it was meeting new people or getting involved in all sorts of things. His passion for Loyola, Boston College, and Georgetown was inspiring, his zest for life almost overwhelming, and his sense of responsibility unsurpassed. I was so pleased for him when he finally became a financial analyst and started working for Sandler O'Neill. I am thankful that he got that opportunity. Anyone who knew Dan saw that he hungered to work on Wall Street -- it was where he belonged. And so many people did know him -- whenever I would meet someone who attended Boston College, they invariably would know Dan McNeal. He knew everyone and everyone loved him. My only regret is that Dan will never know what an amazing person he was. He never believed that about himself, though we all recognized it.

There is so much I will miss. I'll miss the nights he'd surprise us by showing up at our house with a pizza and a six-pack ready to watch Thursday night Must-See-TV. I'll miss our free-spirited trips down to the Capital to tour the museums together. I'll miss our Jimmy Buffett concerts, relaxing out on the lawn. I'll miss his Achieva and his always amusing theories on my love life. I'll miss our playful fights about the U.S. versus Europe and his unwavering pride in everything American. I'll even miss his share of misfortune too -- his dropping his keycard down the elevator shaft at work or having the bad luck to have a license plate similar to one involved in a crime. But through it all, Dan smiled and never let it get him down, forever conveying a sense of togetherness and happiness. Oh sure, we had our share of late night conversations where he would talk about the few disappointments in his life, but he never let it stop him from caring about others and charging forward with life.

The last time I spoke to Dan was to tell him I was engaged. I could hear in his voice how happy he was for me. He made me promise to save a dance for him at my wedding, which is to be next September. Although he won't physically be there to twirl me around, I know he'll be with me in spirit, cheering me on, and sending his best wishes. He'll be in my heart too, an incredible friend who was always there for me when I needed him.

So please accept my sincere condolences and know that your whole family is in my thoughts and prayers. I believe I met everyone once at your house in Towson, and recall giving Kathleen a ride once or twice when she was in high school. But even without knowing you personally, I know what intense love Dan had for you and how important his family was to him. He would have done anything and everything for you. You should be proud to have raised such a caring son.

I'm heart-broken that we've only just learned of this tragedy today, the morning of the funeral. I apologize for not being there; it seems wrong, like I've let Dan down somehow. He didn't deserve to die in such an unspeakable manner, but I'm certain he would want us all to go on with our lives, remembering the joy that he once shared with us. I know I will never forget the joy that Dan brought to my own life.


Leslie Forte

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