Sunday, August 19, 2012

James A. McKay - Chief

Around our house, around the office and around the boat when someone said "Chief" you knew right away who they were speaking of and you knew it was going to be interesting.

My introduction to "Chief" was many years ago, but had it been just that one time, I would have never forgotten him. Much to my pleasure I've known "Chief" for most of my life.

The obituary in this morning's Charlotte Observer reads "James Anthony McKay, Sr. "Chief" - Mr. McKay, 81 of Matthews died Thursday, August 16, 2012 at home."

Nothing remarkable unless you knew Chief - With his health failing and the prospect of having to spend his final days in a hospital bed he proclaimed "the only way I'm leaving this house is FEET FIRST". On Thursday morning hearing of her father's death his youngest daughter Grace choked back her tears to say she was going home to make damn sure he went out the door "feet first".

Chief was a veteran of the Korean War, served in the United States Army as a Sergeant and later as merchant seaman and marine engineer thus the name "Chief". He sailed the world, earning the respect of so many while keeping a tight ship.

And speaking of ships, I've never looked at an engine room the same way after Chief told my father he needed to "Clean Up the Damn engine room" on his boat. I think right then I understood Chief was a "my way or the highway" sort of guy.

Gruff and sweet at the same time, a trade mark.

My sister went to visit Chief in the hospital several weeks ago hoping to cheer him up. Chief's hello was a simple and unexpected "are you pregnant?". My sister explained she wasn't and Chief promptly told her "well, you look like you are you need to lose some weight".

Chief went on to say "I wish I could fix an engine like I used to. My life's work and I can't do it anymore". My sister would tell you that his simple wish, broke her heart. She told him that she knew, and kissed him on the forehead. Tears gently fell and she said goodbye. and as she walk out the door unable to speak she looked back at Chief who said with a smile "You're really something kid".

Chief exploits are legend, just a few weeks ago he nearly "blew himself up". Chief was a smoker, a bad habit that all of us wished he would have kicked, but it was such a habit that he absent mindedly woke up in the middle of the night leaned across the bed to the night stand and lit up a cigarette. The only trouble was he was on oxygen and the room promptly burst into flames.

Some of us were surprised heeven survived, but "Chief" was a tough guy, bigger than life. If you made a movie about "Chief" you would have to cast John Wayne, the truth is they stopped making guys like "Chief" long ago.

Chief married his bride 58 years back, when the then Miss Catherine "Kay" Monahan became Kay McKay. And you couldn't fine a sweeter couple, Kay was "Chief's" soft side. Kay soft spoken and demure and Chief a sizable man with a rough exterior and strong voice but a heart of gold.

He was a soldier, sailor, husband, father, grandfather, great grand father, and everyone called him "Chief", right down to his 14 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

We'll raise a glass or two to "Chief" tonight; Fair Winds and Following Seas, God Speed dear friend. Bravo Zulu, well done, well done indeed.

A funeral mass will be held at 11:00 AM on Monday, August 20, 2012 at St. Matthew Catholic Church, in the chapel. And oh the tales that will be told.

CP Update: As expected there was much to say during Monday's funeral service at St. Matthew's. Monsignor McSweeney shared his take on Chief noting that "Jim didn't want to be known as an Irish-American, as far as Jim was concerned he was just an American."

The Monsignor jokingly referred to Chief as "Archie", an inside joke for those old enough to remember the cranky character played by actor Carrol O'Conner.

In remembering Chief's career as a merchant seaman McSweeny pointed out how challenging it might have been for Chief's dear wife Kay raising children in his absence and having to balance his way vs her's, adding that he could imagine Kay saying to the kids"its only 3 more days and he'll be back on the ship."

Props to Monsignor McSweeny for giving us our monies worth by paying homage to our friend Chief, without passing the collection plate.  But somehow I expect Chief would have something to say about that as well, something along the lines of "Hey, you're not going to let them off that easy are you?Pass the damn collection plates, I don't want this service on my bill!"

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