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Devoted to family, others

Local man was aboard Comair Flight 5191

Local man was aboard Comair Flight 5191

August 30, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - When his work in Kentucky was done, Steve McElravy was eager to return to his family in Hagerstown on Sunday, his colleagues said, so he took a 6 a.m. flight.

Shortly after taking off - from the wrong runway - the plane crashed on a farm near Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, according to The Associated Press.

McElravy, 57, was one of 49 people killed. A pilot survived.

As a public health adviser within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for five years, McElravy was committed to preventing drug and alcohol abuse.

But, "when he left (the office), he was equally devoted to his family," said Rose Kittrell, the acting deputy director in the department's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) in Rockville, Md., where McElravy worked.

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While Kittrell and others had later flights home Sunday, McElravy picked the earliest.

"He had plans with his boys," said Mike Lowther, the director of CSAP's Division of State Programs.

The boys are Rory, 14, and Aidan, 8, the sons of Steve and his wife, Audrey.

Before Steve and Audrey married, Steve already had a son, David McElravy, and Audrey already had a daughter, Michelle Muhs.

Steve McElravy lived in Lincoln, Neb., for 30 years, according to his brother, Bruce McElravy.

Bruce, who lives in Lincoln, said their father was in the U.S. Air Force, so the family moved around.

Steve went to the University of Nebraska as an undergraduate, then the University of Michigan for a master's degree in social work, his brother said.

By the time Steve had his master's degree, he also had a wife, a child and a focus.

"I saw my brother (was) taking on life and had a plan," Bruce said.

He said Steve worked at a mental illness center, then the Lincoln Council on Alcoholism and Drugs, where he worked for many years.

Michelle Muhs, also of Lincoln, said the promise of helping more people, on a larger scale, was the reason he took a federal job.

For a year, he lived in the Washington, D.C., area without his family, but he went back to Lincoln often. Then, his wife and children joined him in Washington. Together, they moved to Hagerstown.

"He was the nicest human being I ever met," said Lowther, who called McElravy "very centered, very real."

"He saw the good in people," Lowther said.

Muhs said McElravy was intense in his work, but otherwise easygoing.

"He was a big hippie in the '70s," she said. Somewhere in that lifestyle, he decided to help people with drug and alcohol problems.

Outside of work, he taught anger management classes and volunteered at a health food co-op, she said.

He practiced yoga, recycling and other ways of clean, earth-friendly living, Muhs said.

That included Ananda Marga, a movement that says it aims for "self-realization (individual emancipation) and service to humanity (collective welfare): the fulfillment of the physical, mental and spiritual needs of all people."

McElravy, Kittrell and Lowther were in Lexington for meetings connected to the National Prevention Network Research Conference. Their last meeting was Saturday.

On Sunday, when colleagues heard about the plane crash, they were "hoping against hope" that he was the survivor, Kittrell said. When his death was confirmed, she said, they were devastated.

Bruce McElravy said his brother's death was the third in the extended family in about two months. He said his parents had just gotten back from a cousin's funeral in Colorado when they heard their son had died.

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