It’s early, so early that the only sound you hear is the start of rush-hour traffic. Not even the man in the wheelchair has planted himself at the foot of the memorial where he plays “Amazing Grace” on his harmonica over and over.
Conversations? You hardly hear any, at any hour. Not here. What is there to say? You look at the running shoes left behind, hundreds of them, and the teddy bears, hundreds of them, and you know behind each item is a trail of hurt.
Dave McGillivray has visited here, Copley Square, about a dozen times the past six weeks. But he need not come here to feel what everyone feels in the wake of this year’s tragic Boston Marathon.
For him, it’s personal.
McGillivray is the race director.
His title took on a new complexion at 2:50 p.m. on April 15, when two bombs exploded near the finish line, a half-block from the memorial, directly resulting in three deaths and more than 260 injuries, in addition to the officer killed in the manhunt. For McGillivray, who also directed the first five editions of the Marathon of the Palm Beaches, the days since have been a whirlwind of emotions, experiences and commitments.
STAYING BOSTON STRONG
He has allowed himself one cry in his office. He has met with President Obama. He has looked back, tying up loose ends from the chaos, but desperately wants to begin preparing for the future, knowing the heat is on for next year. He has to direct the most meaningful event for something that will be 118 years old, that’s all. Didn’t Obama promise as much at the memorial for the victims?
“When you have tragedies it’s tough for us to see silver linings, but you have to, to survive,” McGillivray says. “That’s the whole idea of Boston Strong. … You don’t want people to die in vain. So by getting stronger, you’re honoring them.”
Like most in the Boston Athletic Association, which governs the marathon, McGillivray has kept a low profile, declining most interview requests. He traditionally runs the marathon route himself late on Patriots Day, after most have gone home, but this year’s run was delayed 11 days. Even then, he told virtually no one to avoid attention, a ploy wrecked when a tweet by a witness alerted some TV crews.
It took weeks to respond to a few thousand texts and e-mails of support, the strangest of which came from fellow race directors. The gist: “If it had to happen to anyone, I’m glad it happened to you,” McGillivray says. Cruel? No. They’re actually tipping their caps to McGillivray’s reputation for preparedness.
“I know how they mean it, which is appreciated,” says McGillivray, a former part-time Jupiter resident. “It’s more of a testament to the team. We are lucky that we have an event that is 117 years old. We have a lot of people who have been around a long time and know what they’re doing.”
Maybe so, but they haven’t been around 117 years.
“Close,” he says. “I feel like I have.”
Smiles have been tough to come by, but he shared one with Obama.
“I kind of kiddingly said, ‘Hey, will you come back and run?’ ” McGillivray says. “He was like, ‘I’m not even sure I can make it around the South Lawn.’ ”
McGillivray couldn’t return home to North Andover, about 30 miles away, for days after the tragedy.
“When he did, (son) Lukie was crying,” says Greenacres’ Ron Kramer, McGillivray’s close friend, Boston’s lead vehicle coordinator and creator of the Palm Beach marathon route. “He said, ‘Daddy, I hope you’re not going to manage this marathon again.’ ”
Luke, 7, asked his father if the bombers were coming to their house. Luke was with sister Ellie, 9, and their mother, Katie, watching the race at the time of the attack.
“Right here, in the bleachers,” McGillivray says, pointing to a spot perhaps 40 yards from the first explosion, a site that has been sanitized. “They were right across the street. They saw.”
The world saw the video of the collapsed runner receiving aid from officers with guns drawn. McGillivray’s family saw it unfolding right before them. At first, McGillivray couldn’t reach them because cell service was disrupted.
“Once I was able to find out my family was OK and connect with them, then it was, ‘OK, I’ve got to get back to work,’ ” McGillivray says.
Kramer: “He said, ‘I’ve got to get down on the street and be with the runners and make sure they’re taken care of.’ ”
A CHANCE FOR CLOSURE
McGillivray praises the response of runners and volunteers who had no way of knowing how many bombs were planted.
“So everyone’s saying, ‘Don’t go there!’ Don’t go there!’ no matter which way you went,” McGillivray says.
What’s next for the marathon is to be determined. It has strict qualifying standards and limits the field to 20,000 because of narrow roads, but 38,708 were permitted for the 100th edition. Already, the BAA invited back the 5,700 who were unable to finish. Many of them also covered the final mile Saturday in the One Run, a symbolic moment of healing.
The expectation is next year’s Boston Marathon will have increased security and an expanded field.
The guarantee is that the demand for entries will be astronomical.
“That’s obviously going to be a focal point of people’s emotions,” McGillivray says. “And they’re going to want to honor the victims and sort of recognize the fact that we will not be denied, and we will run again. And April 21 now will probably be that time where we might be able to put a little bit more closure on this.”
Closure for the runners.
Closure for the race director.
“It’s been extremely emotional,” Kramer says of the impact on McGillivray, whom he’s known since 1978. “I don’t have to tell you about Dave and the way he feels about what he does. What he does is based on everything for the runner. That’s been his philosophy since Day 1. To have something like this tragically happen and take away the experience of 5,700 runners crossing the finish line hit him hard. It hit him very hard.”