What Dan means to me
Words cannot express how I feel about Dan.
Outside of my family, Dan has been the most important person in my life for the last 3 years.
I first met Dan in stats boot camp. I met him within the first hour of my first day at Georgetown. My first impression of Dan was that he was a happy person and a good politician. Within the first 10 minutes of meeting him, I thought he would be one of the people who would run for class President. I also wondered, for only a split second, if he was always this nice and friendly or if it was an act. It didn’t take me long to realize it was genuine.
Stats boot camp was taught by Bardia Kamrad, an fantastic professor at Georgetown. He knew everyone’s name the first day of boot camp; all 60 of us. And he had an amazing way of knowing exactly when someone’s mind began to wander in one of his classes. A day or two into boot camp, Dan’s mind drifted slightly at one point. Bardia called him on it, like he did with all of us when our mind wandered. “Dan, are you with me, Dan?”, he said. “Or were you just thinking about lunch?” The funny thing was, as Dan confessed later, he actually was thinking about lunch. Of course, this gave Bardia a segway to talk about his favorite place for lunch, Wisemillers. He told us we all had to go to Wisemillers and order a Chicken Madness sandwich. It became our dietary staple for the next two years. Bardia would also stop during class to tell us that we should take lots of Vitamin C and get some exercise, to go along with our Chicken Madness. All during our first six weeks of his class, Bardia would say, “Are you taking your vitamin C?” Stats was not the easiest class, but we all learned so much. And Bardia cared deeply for his students, especially Dan.
The next week after Stats camp, our entire class went out to Xerox Coference Center in Leesburg, Virginia. We broke up into teams to study the AES Power Corporation. AES has a very unique management style. The company had a very decentralized management structure where groups of employees ran the company. During the week we also had various competitions where we came up with strategies that we had to defend with presentations. At the end of the week, there were only two teams left. One was Dan’s. The last day, this nice, happy guy I’d just met completely blew my socks away by getting up and delivering an amazing speech about the company. I couldn’t believe this mild mannered, smiling guy could be such a great orator. Of course, whenever you complemented Dan on his speaking ability, he would just blush and make a comment about how he’s just like a used car salesman.
I was fortunate enough to have Dan in my section at Georgetown. We were the “red” section. That meant we went through every class together for the first semester. The 50 of us in the red section immediately bonded. We were together all the time. It took a few weeks before I realized that Dan and I would become very close friends. He and I both worked late at night in the MBA lounge on the 4th floor of Old North, one of the oldest buildings on the Georgetown campus. In reality, it was a converted attic. But we liked it. It had character and computers, all that we needed. I think Dan was one of the few people who actually bought coffee from the coffee vending machine up in the Old North attic. Of course, this was assuming he didn’t have time to run down to the Starbucks that he lived above in Georgetown or the coffee shop in Levy Center.
Dan and I got to know each other because he would never let me walk home alone after dark when we were working late in Old North. He only lived a few blocks away from me in Georgetown, so he always made a point of walking me home. When we first started GU, Dan’s Dad, Mike, had 9 bypass surgery. During this time, Dan was a wreck. It was in those weeks that he and I began to talk seriously about life, and death. Our conversations began to grow more deep and we talked about his sorry and his family situation. My heart wept for him during those days. We were kindred souls in state of unhappiness. I was suffering from reverse culture shock. I had just moved back to the U.S. after spending five years living in Hong Kong. Even though I loved Georgetown, my life was turned upside down. Dan and I were both going through difficult times, and we leaned on each other for support.
Then, 6 weeks later, another fiasco took Dan by surprise. He had been assigned to a very difficult group project. He had several people in his group who were not particularly ethical. They had a strategy/organizational behavior project to do and his group chose the Philadelphia Eagles as a company to analyze. During their research, the Eagles management had given the team some documentation regarding their strategy. Members of Dan’s team plagiarized the strategy documents without giving credit to the original source. Dan said it was wrong. He stayed up the entire night before the project was due re-writing the plagiarized section and re-wording it. The next day, the team (specifically 2 members of the team) rejected his revised copy and turned the plagiarized paper in anyway. After much soul searching, Dan went to the professors involved and turned himself and the entire team in, showing how they had plagiarized the paper. The outcome was a lower grade for Dan and the entire team, but it didn’t stop there. Dan actually got into a fist fight with one member of the team, a very rich lawyer from Canada. Rumor has it that he actually took out a contract to have Dan beaten up. Dan went to the police but they could not do much to help with the situation, until more concrete evidence was found. The entire incident finally died down, though it stayed with Dan throughout his entire Georgetown career.
During my two years at Georgetown, I worked in the Admissions office as part of my scholarship to the school. Dan would come by to see me in the Admissions office to visit while I worked. He would always stop by just to see if we had any prospective students that needed to be taken to class or shown around campus. He would volunteer to do anything that was needed to help us, no matter how menial or huge it might be. He was always there, willing to do anything.
Dan and I became very close during our first semester. He was the last person I spoke to every night before I went to bed, either because he walked me home, or more often because we called each other to talk late at night. I always went to bed happy after talking to Dan, although I worried about him so much. Between his father’s illness and his difficulty with his first group at Georgetown, he had a very difficult time.
Dan saw the good in everyone. He didn’t want to believe people could ever be bad. And he was so selfless. He would go to church and stand at the back of the church. If you ask him if he’s going to sit down, he’d say not yet and that he was just waiting to make sure everyone else got a seat first.
Cats, Dogs and Kids
Dan and I talked about a lot of things over the last 3 years. Dan once told me he wanted a son named Craig. He said if he were right handed, he would tie his hand behind his back and force him to learn to play baseball as a “southpaw”. He also wanted a greyhound dog. When Dan told me he wanted to adopt a greyhound when he had a house, I asked him why. He said he wanted to adopt a greyhound because many of them are abused and thrown out and he wanted to give one of them a home where the dog could be loved. How typically Dan.
We always argued about whether it was better to have cats or dogs. I am a cat person, having grown up with cats all of my life. Dan didn’t understand cats. I brought a cat back from Asia with me when I returned to the U.S. His name is Seraphim. Seraphim liked Dan, except when Dan took his side of the bed. Then Seraphim would sometimes scream at Dan. Dan always called him “Satanphim”.
One of Dan’s favorite stories was about Cal Ripken. Dan was going to a baby shower and decide that the perfect gift for any baby shower was a small baby sized baseball mitt autographed by Cal Ripken.
So Dan bought the mitt and headed for the stadium one day during the Orioles practice. As he entered the area for autographs, he noticed a haggardly looking woman with a small boy. She was trying to hold the boy up but she looked exhausted. So Dan offered to hold her son so she could rest. He put little Danny up on his shoulders so he could see Cal over everyone else. Cal had heard that little Danny was coming to visit. It seemed Little Danny had been in the hospital a long time and his mother promised him that the day he got out, they would go see Little Danny’s favorite player, Cal Ripken. Little Danny lived up in New England or New York, but as promised, his mother loaded him in their car and drove all night so Little Danny could get Cal’s autograph. So Cal asked up to the crowed, where’s Danny? And of course, the child sat on Dan McNeal’s shoulders. So Dan said, “up here Mr. Ripken”. And little Danny got to meet his idol with the help if Dan McNeal and Dan got the little baseball mitt signed for the babyshower. Of course, when Dan would tell this story, it wasn’t about him helping a sick child. The reason he would tell the story was to describe what a wonderful person Cal Ripken is.
Dan was known for his interesting choice in cars. While at Georgetown, he drove quite the lemon. It was an Oldsmobile Achieva which he affectionately called, the “UnderAchieva”. GM did not make nor sell many Achieva’s because the car was a lemon from the start. It was the “achievement” of bad manufacturing. But Dan was sold on buying this car. One year he arranged an RV to take a group from Boston College to Notre Dame for the big BC / Notre Dame game. There were more people in the RV than it could really hold because Dan would never turn anyone away. So after a less than comfortable ride across country, the group was returning home. Dan decided there were too many people in the RV that he had arranged, so to make the quarters more comfortable for everyone else, he would just rent a car and drive back separately. Well, the car the rental place gave him was called the Oldsmobile Achieva. And after several days of being tired and cramped and probably hungover, the Achieva was a dream come true. Dan drove that car all the way back to Boston, and loved it. So when it came time for him to purchase a new car, he looked at several different ones, but kept coming back to this incredibly comfortable car he had driven back to Boston. And thus, he bought a burgundy Achieva. Well, the car did not live up to its name. It had continuous problems from the beginning. Over the several years Dan had the car, one of the worst problems was its brakes. Dan went through something like 17 pairs of brakes on this car, often after near misses when the brakes gave out. The people at Oldsmobile said it was his driving, but it was interesting that others were having a similar experience. He also had problems with the locks, the windows, and the doors. And anyone who rode in his car his last year at Georgetown (just before the car was finally put out of its misery) will attest to the glove compartment door that would fly open on any whim. And of course, every time Dan would take you somewhere, he would apologize profusely as he threw books, coffee cups, papers and usually a few resumes’ into the back seat of his car where the collection was already growing. But what I remember most about the UnderAchieva was Dan’s willingness to let anyone and everyone drive it if you needed to go somewhere and Dan couldn’t take you. It didn’t matter if he had just met you or known you for a long time, anyone could drive that car. And Dan would always say it didn’t matter because the insurance was worth more than the car, besides which, no one in their right mind would want to steal it. His generosity with his car just mirrored that from the rest of his life.
Dan first learned about Sander O’Neill during our first year at Georgetown. He used to tell me about it. He was excited about the fact that they only covered banks, which was his area of interest after working for Riggs for several years. He spent over a year getting a job / interviews with them. It was a long and tough process as he interviewed with other companies, but in the back of his mind, always wanted to work for Sandler. He told me about his final discussions with them for the job on December 23, 1999. He went up to finalize everything. He was talking with Mark (his soon to be manager at Sandler) on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center. He was sitting in a glass conference room with his back to the glass. All of the sudden, Mark got a funny look on his face. Dan asked, “Are you OK Mark, did I say something wrong?” Mark replied, “No Dan, it’s not you, a reindeer just walked by.” Sandler had invited the families of all of its employees to a Christmas party in their office that day. As part of it, they had brought live reindeer to the top of the World Trade Center to entertain the children. Dan said it was very funny to watch traders, still doing business because the market was still open, while children were around. He said they had to replace their often less than appropriate language with language that would be acceptable because of the kids. So sentences from an irate trader might go something like…..“What do you mean you can’t get those… silly…. little….stocks for me?” Dan told me that this day just confirmed to him how much he wanted to work for Sandler O’Neill and what a great company it was. “You can’t go wrong with a company that will bring reindeer to the 104th floor for a bunch of kids.” He loved Sandler and he loved the people there.
Although, Dan almost blew his chance for this job. During his interview process at Sandler, Dan had one final interview to do. His boss, Mark, was sold on hiring Dan. But Dan still had to do a phone interview with someone much hire up than Mark before the job could be finalized. So Dan was supposed to call this person at 9:00am one morning. But since Dan had other things to do as well, he needed to make the call from school in the Car Barn phone bank. This was an enclosed room with lots of free phones for student’s personal use. So Dan sat down to make the call, but the phone bank is not the right place to make professional calls, because you never know who will come in or what they will say. Unfortunately, while on the phone with this high level executive from Sandler, one of our classmates walked in and said “Hey, come on Dan, hurry up your call, it’s time for a beer!”. It was 9:30 in the morning. The high level executive asked Dan if he normally drank this early in the day. A nervous and anxious Dan did not have a good reply and the call ended poorly soon after. So Dan, determined to redeem himself, drives to New York to hand deliver the thank you note for the call, as he did many times for companies he cared about. He also managed to arrange to see the Sandler exec. for five minutes to try and make another impression. His five minute conversation turned into a three hour conversation, and he finally got the job, much to his relief and delight.
Why I love Dan McNeal
Dan was the epitome of good. He made me realize just how nice and wonderful a person could be without ulterior motives. I could talk to Dan for hours. We’d talk about everything under the sun. Dan remembered everything I ever told him, everything I said. Although he was too much of a gentlemen to point it out when I contradicted myself. Dan could defend conservative ideology better than anyone I’ve ever known, but he was still willing to listen to and respect other viewpoints. Dan was ethical and his ethics had no room for compromise. Dan was selfless. He would go out of his way to do something for someone, no matter what an inconvenience it might be for himself.
He was a very deep and complex person. Like an onion, the more you got to know him and unpeeled the layers, the more you cared about him. Dan allowed me to unpeel many layers that he would never talk about with others. I felt honored to not only know the Dan everyone else knew, but to know parts of the Dan underneath. The Dan that was vulnerable and sometimes even sad. The Dan that had been hurt by some tough situations in life over the years, but still believed in the basic goodness of people. The Dan who was my rock against which I drew strength at Georgetown. If I didn’t see his smiling face each day, my day was not complete. To hear his happy voice ringing in my ears could take my bad days and turn them into good. But if he was having a bad day, then my day was bad too. My heart ached for him when things would go wrong in his life and he supported me when they would go wrong in mine. He was always there for me through good and bad. We always laughed together, and on occasion we would cry together, though tears were not an easy thing for Dan and mine made him uncomfortable. On the few occasions when something upset me enough to tears, he would wipe the tears from my cheek with his thumb, hug me and tell me not to be upset.
Dan was a true gentleman, one of the last. Whenever we went somewhere, whether I was driving or he was driving, he would always run around and open my door for me. When he picked me up, even if we were running late, he would always get out of his car and come to the door to get me, even if I already knew he was there. It wasn’t his style to honk his horn for you.
After we left Georgetown, the highlight of my week would be my calls with Dan on the weekends, usually a Sunday. We were both working long and hard hours, but knowing that I would talk to Dan at the weekend made it alright. He would call me up or email me and say “How’s Bawlmer der hon?”, or if he got the machine it was always “It’s just Dan calling”, as if his call wasn’t important.
Through our two years at Georgetown, Halloween shared a special occasion for us. The first year, he and I dressed up and went down to Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. We hung out, looked at costumes and had a lovely time. Then we went to a Halloween party for the GU MBA program. That night was the early beginnings of many of our late night conversations to come. The second year, Dan dressed up as Samuel Adams. A group of us watched the Exorcist in the Car Barn (the building next to the stairs where the movie was filmed) and then went to the Georgetown Halloween party. That was another fun and wild night. Last Halloween, I was at my house in Baltimore and Dan was in New York so we couldn’t spend it together. So instead, I called him and described the costumes of the all kids that came to the door trick-or-treating at my house while we were talking. He loved kids but living in an apartment, he didn’t get many in costume coming by.
The one thing I will say about my conversations with Dan. We never ran out of things to say and we never got bored. The only thing that fought against us was sleep and time. I could sit and talk to Dan for hours on end and have no idea where the time went. I would just drift off into his eyes and he would take me into his world of politics or the world of religion or the world of business or just the world of stories. And how I loved his stories. He was such a natural storyteller. And none of his stories ever said anything good about something he did directly, but you could tell just by the story itself the good works he did. Every time my phone rang for the last three years, the first thing that popped into my mind was the hope that Dan was on the other end. He helped me through difficult times. He was with me through joyous times. When something goes right or wrong in my life, he’s the first person I want to call.