An Acquaintance Remembers Bobby McIlvaine

Readers respond to our September 2021 issue and more.

Photo of magazine open to Jennifer Senior's cover story "Twenty Years Gone"
Katie Martin / The Atlantic

Twenty Years Gone

In September, Jennifer Senior wrote about one family’s struggle to make sense of 9/11.

Thank you for your cover story about the family of Bobby McIlvaine. I remember him. In 2001, I worked as a writer and editor for Waters, the financial-technology magazine that hosted the conference at Windows on the World on September 11. (It was supposed to be a two-day conference, and I planned to attend on September 12.) He always sounded vibrant and enthusiastic on the phone, no matter when you spoke with him, and he was someone you could count on to follow things through to completion.

Magazine Cover image

Explore the November 2021 Issue

Check out more from this issue and find your next story to read.

View More

I knew many people who never came back from the conference that day. Many of them left behind young families, and many of them, like Bobby, barely had the chance to start their adult lives. I wish there was room to remember them all in your pages, but I’m so glad you were able to remember one of them.

Renee Caruthers
Mountain Lakes, N.J.

As a chaplain at two small hospitals, I work amid death and grieving every day. Ms. Senior’s article reminded me again of how little I really know about the families I work with; I’m only dipping my toe in their grief. I do know that I will never again utter the moat-building phrase No one should ever have to bury a child.

Reverend Mark Porizky
Mystic, Conn.

I was 29 when this horrible event happened, a young technical writer on my way to work in Sarasota, Florida. After all these years, there has not been one story or image as powerful for me as your story and the picture of Bobby’s wallet on the cover of The Atlantic. Thank you for jolting me out of my complacency when it comes to remembering this tragic day in American history.

Niki Delchant
Valrico, Fla.

I am writing to express my heartfelt thanks for Ms. Senior’s tenderly written piece. I read it as I prepared to write a eulogy for my sister, who was two and a half years my junior. She died suddenly on June 14.

Thank you, Ms. Senior, for helping me reach a peaceful place in which to write an ode to my sister’s worth in my life and in the world. I miss her so much already.

Patricia A. Teunisse
Leiden, The Netherlands

Blame the Bobos

The creative class was supposed to foster progressive values and economic growth, David Brooks wrote in September. Instead we got resentment, alienation, and endless political dysfunction.

David Brooks tries to justify the “red” classes’ resentment of the bobos by asserting that, “on our watch, government and other public institutions have deteriorated.” But has it really been “on our watch”? Since the Reagan Revolution, Democrats have controlled both policy-making branches in Washington for a total of less than five years—the first two years each of the Clinton and Obama presidencies, and the first 10 months of the Biden presidency. It would be far more accurate to blame Republican obstructionism.

Richie Feder
Philadelphia, Pa.

If the “creative class” really dominated national policy as Brooks assumes, the Democrats would have comfortable majorities in Congress. Instead, they are hanging on by their fingernails while the GOP plots to manipulate redistricting and alter voting and vote-counting procedures for 2022, then reverse whatever the Democrats have accomplished. If America manages to avoid that outcome, the “creative class” will deserve a large share of the credit for exposing the GOP’s antidemocratic effort.

Sam Bleicher
Winchester, Va.

Near the end of his essay, Brooks tellingly notes that “economic redistribution only gets you so far.” The important thing is to fix how status is doled out, so that more people can get it.

Maybe I just don’t know enough bobos, but this obsession with class and status is not a convincing explanation for our current societal crisis. In my view, it is just a grand distraction from our foundational economic systems, systems that need to be rebuilt along the lines of Modern Monetary Theory, and to include a universal basic income and some type of Green New Deal. Money is power, and power drives culture—not vice versa.

Jeremy Raymondjack
Weymouth, Mass.

The World Kodak Made

The tech giant of the 20th century changed the way Americans saw themselves and their country, Kaitlyn Tiffany wrote in the July/August issue. Now it’s trying to reinvent itself.

At the beginning of World War II, Kodak management in Rochester offered to help employees at Kodak Ltd., in England, by evacuating their children to Rochester to live with kind Kodak families here. At the time, my grandfather was an employee of Kodak Ltd. His youngest child, my aunt, was 15 and had a heart defect that made her particularly vulnerable to wartime stress and shortages. She was evacuated, along with more than 100 other children, to live in the Rochester area. She went to high school in the U.S., met the young man who would become her husband, and got the opportunity to receive life-altering open-heart surgery, arranged for by Kodak people. She lived into her 80s, much of the time in Rochester (where her husband got a job at Kodak); raised four healthy children; and enjoyed a long career as an artist, a future she had not been expected to live to see.

In the postwar years, three more of my aunt’s siblings moved to Rochester; two of them got jobs at Kodak Park, as did the husband of the third. When my newly widowed mother and I immigrated in 1949, we were sponsored by the same generous Kodak family who had acted as foster parents for my aunt. As a family we owe Kodak a great deal. It was, in and for its time, a great company.

Jeanette Musliner
Rochester, N.Y.

I very much enjoyed Kaitlyn Tiffany’s article on Kodak and Rochester and appreciated her reference to my most recent book, The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America.

I am concerned, however, that readers might be left with the impression that, in discussing a time when prosperity in the United States was shared more broadly with a wide swath of workers, I myself was somehow engaging in—to use Tiffany’s words—“some revisionist history,” given that this “vaunted mid-century prosperity and surety were really only for white men.”

In fact, The End of Loyalty makes very clear that corporate America was blatantly racist and sexist throughout the postwar era. Most notably, the chapter that centers on this essential point, titled “White Male Wanted,” unfolds in Rochester and paints in great detail the very flash points of the 1960s that Tiffany calls out.

Rick Wartzman
Los Angeles, Calif.

I married into Rochester more than 40 years ago and later became the director of the city’s historical society. Kaitlyn Tiffany’s article was a gently sympathetic but very clear-eyed and thorough review of our city, whose heyday has come and gone. Though there is much that I love about Rochester, the segregated, low-quality school system; profound income disparities; recent inadequate leadership; and concentration of poverty are legacies of a city that allowed itself to be patronized and subtly directed by George Eastman and Kodak for years.

Today, Rochester is attracting younger, hipper, and perhaps more progressive people, so my hope is that this fine community is ready to head toward a more self-determined and enlightened future. And, while the city’s particular history is unique, I cannot help but think that Rochester is very much not alone.

Meredith Keller
Rochester, N.Y.

Behind the Cover

For McKay Coppins’s cover story on the men killing America’s newspapers, we decided to embrace the vulture in vulture capitalist. Dan Winters is known for his celebrity portraiture, but he began his career as a photojournalist for his hometown paper. We asked him to photograph Black Beauty, or “B.B.,” a trained vulture in Odessa, Texas. The lighting for the shoot had to be carefully managed, because B.B. reacted to lights as though they were the sun, spreading her wings to catch the rays.

Luise Stauss, Director of Photography

This article appears in the November 2021 print edition with the headline “The Commons.”