Fran McElravy spent yesterday searching for photos of her son, Steve McElravy of Hagerstown, Md.
The snapshots of birthdays, graduations and family gatherings of years past helped conjure memories of her eldest child.
"Going through all of them you can just see his admiration for his kids," said Fran McElravy of Aurora, Colo.
McElravy's youngest son has Down syndrome, she said.
"Steve was just so good with him. He was so patient. He took him fishing and everything," she said. McElravy, 57, is also survived by a wife, a teenage son, a stepdaughter and a grown son from a previous marriage.
Although he moved his family to Maryland four years ago, McElravy still managed to routinely make it back to Lincoln, Neb., the place he was born and later worked for decades. For several years, he worked in drug and alcohol abuse prevention there.
"He was a helper from day one. ... He was very bright, very accepting of others," said friend Bob Schroeder, who worked with him at the Nebraska Council to Prevent Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
Born into an Air Force family, McElravy traveled early in life.
As a boy, he lived in Japan. Halfway through his high school senior year, his parents moved with their five children from near Miami to the Philippines. McElravy ended the year as class salutatorian, his mother said.
For college, McElravy returned to Lincoln and the University of Nebraska, where he marched in the Cornhusker band. After earning a master's degree in social work at the University of Michigan, he returned to Lincoln.
Four years ago, he took a job in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. To prevent the sale of cigarettes to children, McElravy helped several states start programs to monitor stores, Schroeder said.
"He traveled all over the country. That's why he was on that plane," said his mother. He was on his way home from a business trip Sunday, and his wife, Audrey, was waiting for him, a brother said.
Yesterday, McElravy said she was glad to busy herself searching for photos of her son, something to help her daughter-in-law prepare for a memorial in Maryland.
She sighed thinking about her first-born.
"We're not supposed to lose our children," she said.