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Special Agent in Charge just typical Naperville dad
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Daily Herald Columnist

FBI Special Agent in Charge Rob Grant played a key role in the arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But he's also a Naperville resident who used to live on Joni Hirsch Blackman's cul-de-sac.

 

Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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Published: 12/22/2008 12:07 AM

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You've heard about the Naperville woman driving Barack Obama's old car?

Well, move aside. I live on FBI agent Rob Grant's old cul-de-sac.

You may have heard his already famous quote from the Dec. 9 news conference announcing the arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich: "If Illinois isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor."

Though he spoke just a short time at the news conference, his was the line most often quoted - including by Barbara Walters on "The View," although she wrongly attributed it to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Google that, and you'll get more matches than you'll want to read. It seems virtually everyone who wrote about the news conference quoted Chicago's Special Agent in Charge, Rob Grant.

Well, they call him Robert Grant. But if your daughter and his daughter were best friends from the time they were 2 until some fed moved Grant out of Chicago when the girls were 6, you could call him Rob.

Perhaps you've figured out that if my preschool daughter hung out with Grant's preschool daughter, running back and forth between our houses annoying siblings and ringing doorbells for Popsicles, he lived in Naperville.

And yes, the Grants live in our fair city again, although no longer on the same cul-de-sac where Rob tested whether watering a vegetable garden with beer improves the crops.

Several of the other agents who were instrumental in investigating the governor are also area residents - Supervisory Special Agent Patrick Murphy of Naperville and Special Agent Daniel Cain of Bolingbrook.

Just more people for Napervillians to be proud of. I mean, "American Idol" contestant Gina Glocksen was cool, but Rob, Pat and Dan are in another category - more hero than idol.

They are not the only FBI agents who either live or have lived in our city; Rob is not even the only FBI agent we've known while living here.

Why, I asked him, do so many agents live in Naperville?

The short answer: The same reason the rest of us do. The long answer, "Naperville was originally identified as an 'Agent Ghetto' because it offered tremendous value, good schools, low crime and a nice place to raise a family," Grant said in an e-mail.

Don't worry, he explained, the term 'Agent Ghetto' is more positive than it sounds. The FBI lingo refers to a place "where agents who are transferred from other places gather based upon good recommendations made by people who transferred before them.

"Naperville has always enjoyed an outstanding reputation for quality of life issues and, as a result, agents began to live there and it eventually earned the time-honored distinction of 'Agent Ghetto.'"

Alas, rising housing prices stemmed the flow of young agents into Naperville, he said. Perhaps the housing crash can reverse that trend because, I figure, it's nice to have FBI agents living nearby.

Though it's been 10 years since they left our street for Texas, we still call the house they lived in "the Grants' house."

It's not often you see your old neighbor on TV (unless he's Drew Peterson or a news anchor), and it was with a slight start I realized it was Rob that day, commenting on the Blagojevich investigation.

Not that I hadn't seen him there before in the four years since he returned to Chicago, but this time was, well, you live in Illinois, you know what that news conference was like.

Rob was the guy who called the governor to tell him agents were at his front door, the guy who answered the question "Is this a joke?"

Ah, no. But come to think of it - the men on our close-knit street years ago may have prepared Rob for just such a morning.

A more serious thought about that morning: When I read agents had planned the early morning arrest, in part, with the thought of avoiding the governor's children having to see their dad arrested, I flashed to a mental picture I have of Rob, walking around downtown Naperville when we first met his family, always with a daughter on his shoulders.

I assumed it was Rob and the other dads involved in this case who took the time to consider a child's trauma. I was only partially right.

"All the people involved in this investigation are parents. We are always sensitive to people's personal situations and, when we can control it, we try to never embarrass anyone regardless of their alleged crime," he said.

"Although being a parent does make one sensitive to the views of little people and the standing their parents have, regardless of their alleged crimes, I don't think it has anything to do with being parents as much as it is just a good law enforcement practice."

I tried to get Rob to talk about how much fun this particular investigation must be, after 25-plus long years of toiling, most often, in anonymity. But he said only, in his best FBI-agent prose, "The rewards of this job are in the service you do for your community and your nation, regardless of the specific defendant."

Yeah, right. I mean, I am sure he means what he said, but this had to be a highlight. I remember dozing off during stories he told years ago about old cases.

He did admit that after the high-profile news conference - some said the news conference played big all over the world - he heard from a lot of friends and relatives he hadn't heard from in years, including a federal prosecutor he'd worked with as a brand-new agent that he hadn't talked to in at least 20 years.

Again, with FBI-trained restraint, he said, "Due to the rather extensive media coverage, I have heard from a lot of people."

I appreciated his tendency for understatement a lot more back in the days when my daughter and his seemed to be involved in some hair-raising, mischievous antic or another hourly - or at least daily.

We appreciated him when he joined in the Slip 'n' Slide/wet basketball group one rainy July 4 and when he made scary noises to entertain the kids in the middle of the night on a neighborhood camping trip to Michigan.

But because our times were more about cul-de-sac driveway parties, swim team and backyard golf than resumes, there were a few things we didn't know about our pal Rob.

He started with the FBI more than 25 years ago. That was before computers, cell phones, pagers and the Internet. He started in Memphis, Tenn., "where I and three other new agents shared one rotary dial, hard-wired phone and we were all armed with revolvers (because the FBI didn't have semi-automatic pistols) and nobody had body armor."

From there, he and his wife, Betsy, went to New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Antonio, back to Washington and back to Chicago.

In D.C. last time, Grant was the Chief Inspector of the FBI.

We hope the Grants stay here a long time, which apparently is his intention.

Officially, that sounds like this: "I will remain in Chicago as long as the Director allows me, but I have no personal plans or desire to leave."

But back to the important stuff. What do your two daughters think of their now-somewhat-famous dad?

Not much, he told me.

"My daughters are teenagers ... need I say more?"

Yup, he may be part of a heroic team, but he's still just a typical Naperville dad.

• Joni Hirsch Blackman is a Naperville mom who lives on what's now known as FBI SAC Grant cul-de-sac. Contact her at jonihb@aol.com.