Compliments of Scott Stewart, photographer.
Bob McLaren, Clan McLaren genealogist and founder of the McLaren DNA Project, was one of the most beloved people in the genealogy community. He tried hard to be a curmudgeon, but he mostly failed at that. His smile and laughing eyes gave him away.
Photo, compliments of Janine Cloud.
Bob’s sense of humor was dry, the same way he liked his Glenmorangie 12, single malt scotch whiskey, neat. Yep, he could tell you all about that, and don’t even think of mentioning some heresy about Cardhu. Unless of course, you wished to debate for the evening. Bob had been known to leave establishments, as is more than once, for having NO acceptable scotch in house.
Bob was Scottish, and Scotch apparently, through and through – always wearing his McLaren plaid kilt and educating anyone who would listen – at genealogy events, conferences and bars around the world. Bob was the consumate ambassador in every sense of the word.
Bob joined his McLaren ancestors on March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, probably in protest of the danged Irish kidnapping a perfectly good Scotsman, Patrick, born Maewyn Succat in Scotland about the year 387, taking him to Ireland and turning him into a Saint. Waste of a perfectly good Scotsman in Bob’s book. Bob took his Scottish history seriously, very seriously, indeed. Just ask. Well, on second thought, no need to ask – he’d tell you one way or the other.
I remember the first time I ever saw Bob in person, from afar, at the 2004 Family Tree DNA Conference – wearing his kilt and dagger. Yes, dagger – known as Sgain-dubh in Gaelic, in his sock. At first, I was struck by his kilt, but then I couldn’t stop looking at his sock.
Courtesy of ISOGG, photo contributed by Candy Camprise.
Even when Bob had a cast on his leg, that sock and dagger were still very much present. After 9-11, he had to stop traveling while wearing his dagger. Airlines frowned on that for some reason.
Courtesy ISOGG, photograph by Candy Camprise.
The never-failing commonality in all pictures of Bob is that he is always talking to someone, always educating, always sharing. Extremely outgoing with a “let’s get it done” attitude, Bob was passionate about every aspect of genealogy.
Photo courtesy Family Tree DNA.
Bob McLaren with Jeremy Balkin at the Family Tree DNA project administrators’ conference in 2013.
Photo compliments of Katherine Borges.
Bob, with Kherlen, volunteer project administrator for the Mongolian DNA Project at the 2014 conference reception.
Bob not only attended the conferences, he was a presenter from time to time as well.
Ever-present, we never thought about the day that Bob wouldn’t be with us. He seemed timeless. A tall man with a wizard-like beard, he seemed a bit like he was transplanted from another era. Maybe at first a little intimidating – at least before you got to know him and realized that his gruffness was mostly bluster. Underneath, Bob was a kind-hearted, gentle teddy-bear of a soul. Bob wasn’t trying to intimidate anyone, he just wanted to provoke you enough to get you to engage in an interesting conversation. I soon learned that two could play that game.
At one of the early FTDNA conferences, my husband and I had walked across the street from the hotel to a restaurant for dinner. I had seen Bob from a distance, but never actually met him. He was always talking to someone else!
He sat at a table near us, by himself. I walked over to his table and asked if he’d like to join us. A genealogist eating by themselves is a perfectly wasted opportunity. Of course, had Bob realized at that moment that I was a descendant of the dreaded Campbell clan, he might not have accepted that invitation.
I’m glad he did, because that dinner sparked a friendship that deepened over the years as the Family Tree DNA conferences became like family reunions – and Bob became family – to me and so many others too.
Bob was a man on a mission – genealogy and McLaren clan genealogy specifically. He didn’t so much love genetic genealogy for the genetics part of the equation, but for the fact that DNA could, did and would unravel the knots in genealogical mysteries. In particular, his goal was to document the various paternal branches of the McLaren clan through Y DNA mutations.
Bob also realized that collaboration was the only way to achieve this goal – hence his constant presence at various conferences, like NGS, RootsTech, FGS and others.
In order to interact with the maximum number of people and convince them of the benefits of DNA testing, Bob volunteered at the FamilyTreeDNA booth at many conferences – wearing his signature kilt of course. Everyone knew him, it seemed, and came by to say hello.
I don’t think Bob would ever admit it, but as he aged, it was a lot easier for him to sit in one place and let the conference walk by him rather than walk through the conference – especially large conferences like RootsTech in particular.
RootsTech 2015, compliments of Family Tree DNA.
Photo compliments Janine Cloud.
When an employee became ill at a conference, Bob along with Doug Miller, at right, volunteered and stepped in at the FTDNA booth at the FGS conference in 2011. That’s the kind of guy Bob was.
Photo courtesy of Janine Cloud.
Bob was a wonderful listener, utilizing his decades of experience to dispense advice about genealogy research, clan history, trees, DNA testing, or pretty much anyone someone needed. He was a marvelous teacher.
Of course, Bob loved nothing more than to buddy with other genealogists, especially other Scottish men wearing kilts.
Photo courtesy of Robert Moffitt.
Here, posed with friend Roger Moffitt, Bob would call Roger “Laddie” and tell him he was a bad Scottsman when Roger failed to wear his kilt. Roger pays his respects to Bob, here, on his own Facebook page.
You may need to be Roger’s friend to see this and other Facebook postings about Bob.
Photo courtesy of Scott Stewart.
I didn’t realize that there were casual and dress kilts and regalia, but Scott Stewart took this absolutely dashing photo of Bob “dressed up” for the 2009 NGS banquet standing beside fellow Scotsman, John Ralls.
Bob chastised Scott for not wearing his kilt too. No one escaped Bob’s encouragement😊
Photo courtesy James M. Beidler.
That Leiderhosen/kilt ad…well, here they are.
Bob and I were volunteers on various committees together, so I knew that he had become rather frail over the past couple of years. I was concerned about him last year at RootsTech and also at the NGS conference in May 2019 in St. Louis.
For a man who did not participate in social media and didn’t much care to have his picture taken, there are certainly a lot of photos out there that feature Bob and…well… everybody it seems.
That’s because Bob was quite kindhearted, despite what he would have you believe, and never denied anyone anything. Except maybe a McGregor.
In the 24 hours of so since the word of Bob’s passing crept out on social media, many people have shared such heartwarming stories about Bob. I’ve been smiling and laughing through my tears.
This photo was taken of me and Bob in February 2019 at RootsTech. I told Bob I loved his black leather purse, or bag, whatever it was. Acting quite offended, which I knew he wasn’t of course, he very quickly schooled me on the fact that it was NOT a purse and it WAS a sporran. Call it what you want, Bob😊
We had an absolutely lovely week at RootsTech, running into each other several times.
Attendees tend to form groups that eat together. This particular evening, part of the MyHeritage team and the FTDNA team invited me along and we had dinner at Benihana. One person in the group had a birthday and the photographer took a photo of the group together. We teased the birthday person mercilessly – Bob goading him into drinking some birthday Glenmorangie 12 in celebration.
I asked Bob if Campbells were allowed Genmorangie 12. He said, “absolutely not” and that he would have to drink mine for me.
We gave this picture to the birthday person, and I discovered this morning that he placed it on his fridge where it remains today, as a memento of a lovely evening with friends.
What happy times we had, and how we need those memories desperately today.
Photo compliments of Jennifer Zinck.
For some reason, Bob was especially inspirational to young people, and they in turn were drawn to him. One person mentioned that he is a sort of father-figure for her, and now he’s gone. Someone else said that he reminds them of the grandfather they wish they had known.
Addie Zinck, above, with her friend, Franklin the spider, attended her first Family Tree DNA conference in 2018. She too is missing her friend, Bob, today. Addie, don’t worry, Bob’s still with you.
Katherine Borges, Director of ISOGG, has known Bob almost as long as I have. She too had a very special relationship with Bob and remembers him, here, on the ISOGG Facebook page with this commentary and poem:
I’ve know Bob since the first Family Tree DNA conference in 2004. I’ve been blessed to get to know him better over the years because he had a huge heart and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. I used to tease him that I was going to buy him some McGregor whisky and he’d pull his skean dhu on me in reply. 😆
God willing and the creek doesn’t rise, I will dress in full Scottish regalia at the FTDNA conference in November in memory of Bob. And we’ll toast the life of this wonderful man with a wee dram.
“An honest man here lies at rest,
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d;
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.”
– Robert Burns
Many people have replied to Katherine’s post with their own memories, so do take a look.
Photo courtesy Katherine Borges.
Bob with his fellow Scots, Linda Magellan and Katherine Borges, above. Looks to me like Bob, Linda and Katherine are plotting something!
Photo compliments of James M. Beidler.
Blaine Bettinger posted this photo, with Diahan Southard and James M. Beidler – and memorializes Bob here in the Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques group with this commentary:
In Memoriam. Robert “Bob” McLaren, who passed away yesterday, was a fixture of the Family Tree DNA booth at just about every conference. Bob was a project administrator, DNA expert, DNA educator, and all around incredibly nice person. Over the years he educated and assisted 1000s of people with all aspects of DNA. And I’ve rarely seen someone as proud of their heritage! He will be very much missed.
Be sure to read the many comments on this post too. Bob inspired so many.
It’s incredibly gut-wrenching when these iconic legends pass over.
The McLaren Quilt
This year, just before RootsTech, Bob became ill and was unable to travel. Based on what he said and the medical testing underway, we knew that he needed a care quilt.
Folks at Family Tree DNA and RootsTech that knew Bob signed blocks, although we were being quiet about his illness and his privacy.
I quickly ordered McLaren tartan fabric from a custom design/print shop. The signature blocks were overnighted to me from Utah and Texas after RootsTech and I pieced the top. The quilt was quickly quilted over a weekend with a Scottish thistle design, bound on Monday and overnighted, arriving the morning of Tuesday, the 17th.
Sadly, Bob never received his quilt. I spoke to Mrs. McLaren today, and she said that the quilt is now spread on the couch with the family admiring it and telling stories. That’s what Bob would have wanted anyway – although I am gravely regretful that I couldn’t somehow have gotten it there a day or two earlier. If it was humanly possible, I would have. I hope his “McLaren Quilt” will bring his family comfort, knowing how many loved Bob and reading their caring messages.
Several people have said to me, “Bob sees it now,” and I desperately hope they are right. I wish now that I had told him it was on the way, but I wanted it to be a surprise and I had absolutely no idea Bob would only be with us another 24 hours.
I am incredibly glad that I called Bob on Monday and spoke with him at length, explaining how he had inspired me, thanking him for being such a strong pillar and foundation in our community.
Bob was planning to be dismissed the next day and his wife was preparing for the same at home. Bob told me, among other things, that he hoped and indeed, planned, to be at the next Family Tree DNA conference in November 2020 in Houston. After that, he said, “it’s probably lights out.” By this time, Bob was aware of his diagnosis although he was optimistic and encouraged to think that he would attend one more conference. I had already spoken with his wife and was surprised to hear Bob planning for November, but make no mistake, if any human could have pulled that off, it indeed was Bob.
Sadly, that wasn’t in the cards, as Bob slipped away the next day with his family gathered round.
While I’m crushed, as are decades’ worth of friends and acquaintances in addition to his family, I’m incredibly grateful to have had Bob’s presence in my life. I’m glad I told him that, in so many words, and thanked him for being an inspiration to a whole generation, or two, of young people.
I know he’s no longer suffering, and knowing Bob, he’s still close by, silently encouraging us.
In fact, I strongly suspect that indeed he has seen the quilt – including my block that I signed, “Your Campbell Cousin.” I know he would have smiled, in spite of himself. I think he secretly forgave me for that Campbell thing long ago.
He’s probably quite amused that his funeral is on hold due to this virus, although I’m sure his family is not.
But I have news for Bob – it’s not lights out. Not at all. In fact, the illuminating light of Bob’s life will continue to shine for a very long time – through the generations by virtue of the thousands and thousands of people he helped, those he encouraged to DNA test who are one step closer to unraveling the mystery of their own ancestors and the young people who look up to him as a role model and (grand)father figure.
That’s one heck of a legacy, one we all can and should aspire to.
Rest in Peace, Bob McLaren, Sir. Well done.
I know you have flown to the McLaren homeland, Creag an Tuirc.
Condolences, Memorials and Family Contact
Bob’s funeral plans are on hold for now due to the pandemic.
Those who wish to share stories or pictures of Bob over the years may either comment on this article, send photos to me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post them in this section of the article along with a description and your comment, so long as I have permission from the people in the photo.
I told Bob’s family that they are welcome to use download and use any portion of this article for his service or any other purpose that brings them comfort.
To contact the family directly, send an email to Bob’s son, Sean at email@example.com.
To send cards, Bob’s address is given on the Clan McLaren website, here. I do not know if anyone will check Bob’s personal email again, so I would not suggest reaching out that way.
From Ally Woods in California:
Sir MacLaren will always bring a smile whenever I hear his name …
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam
From Marie in New Zealand:
Caud ye the door laddie – snak it my loon
Breng o’er a cher and Sett Doon man, Sett Doon
It’s ainly but richt that yer Kinfolk shud courl
To gie ye advice Tae gang oot in this worl’
Close you the door laddie – snib it my loved one
Bring over a chair and Sit Down man, Sit Down
It’s only but right that your Kinfolk should care-at-all
To give you advice to go out in this World
My best to you Roberta –
On losing a fine friend who would have heard and kenned / known this from an early age.