There are television shows about doctors and nurses but none yet about the salesmen who sell headwalls to hospitals. Robert McElaney, who at 54 died late Sunday from cardiac arrest, could have been beloved by America as the star in his own series.
Robert began his career as a hospital supply representative working alongside his father, Daniel McElaney, at Dale Medical Products, then began his own firm, McElaney Medical Associates, based in Brookline.
Since 2012 he has served as a sales representative for Modular Services Company, based in Oklahoma City.
Conversation was among many skills that came easily for Robert, who was a gifted, multi-sport athlete. He grew up as a regular player at Quincy Tennis Club and was on baseball, soccer and basketball teams in high school. He was named an all-New England goalkeeper at Wilbraham and Monson Academy and earned a spot playing against college players in Boston’s prestigious Park League, the oldest amateur baseball league in the United States. He won a Park League championship in 1991, hitting .315 for the Towne Club while playing first base and right field.
Robert graduated from Wilbraham and Monson in 1983. He attended Clark University before returning to Quincy, his hometown, to work in a variety of jobs, including stints as a fish monger, in a ticket agency and as the owner of a dry cleaning delivery service.
The son of Daniel McElaney and the late Elizabeth McDermott McElaney, Robert was the youngest of five children. He was a central figure in the lives of his
siblings Lisa, Kevin, Jack and Anne, as well as their spouses, Abe Morell, Rose McElaney, Nancy Kirk and Phil Rogers. He is also survived by his father’s wife, Gillian Stuart Hamer.
Robert was a major influence on his nieces and nephews — Joanna, Kyle and Samantha McElaney, and Brady and Laura Morell — and two young adults he mentored, Mauro Serrano of Irvine, Calif., and Alicia Lima of Chicago. His death has broken hearts from coast to coast.
While living in the Coolidge Corner neighborhood of Brookline, Robert announced himself wherever he went — Trader Joe’s, Zaftig’s Deli, the Brookline Booksmith — through his gregarious personality. He met few strangers.
The interactions he especially cherished were those spent with family and an ever-expanding network of friends. He was the cousin who stayed in touch and the nephew who always wanted to know how his aunts were doing.
A friend remembers him as “one of those unique characters with tremendous spirit and enthusiasm that made every conversation more interesting.’’ Mauro says Robert “acted as an older brother.’’
Robert was a proud and respected representative for Modular Services. He visited the Oklahoma City office infrequently but was connected to so many there he acquired the nickname “Boston Rob,’’ for both his trademark regional accent and the pride he took in showing his part of the world to visitors.
He dealt in complicated products that aren’t widely known outside of health-care circles. Headwalls are architectural features in patient rooms and other examination and treatment areas.
For the New England hospitals who were among Modular’s clients, Robert was much more than a salesman. He kept a close eye on the projects from the time he put together a proposal until construction was finished. He’s remembered for greeting the drivers of trucks bringing equipment from Oklahoma City with boxes of fresh pizza.
Robert was constantly striving to improve himself and serve others.
His love of tradition put him in an apron, carving turkey for 20-30 people, every Thanksgiving. He was a sharp dresser with a closet full of Italian suits and a collection of dress shoes and watches that made some wonder if he moonlighted in clothing sales.
A young man with an old soul, Robert loved shaves with a straight razor and had strong opinions about cologne. He loved to travel, including trips to Euro Cup soccer matches with his family and weekends at the ACC Basketball Tournament with his father and brothers.
Robert was a dedicated member of Alcoholics Anonymous and lived by the group’s tenets. He made it his daily mission to improve a life and legacy he had built through hard work. He enriched the lives of those in his orbit.
Funeral services and interment will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations in Robert’s name may be sent to The McElaney Family Fund, Nativity Preparatory School, 39 Lamartine St., Jamaica Plain, MA, 02130.