Gene McKay 87, of Spokane, WA, passed away from an unexpected illness on September 17, 2021. He was surrounded by his family.
Gene was born in Spokane to Christy Agnes “May” McKay and John Francis McKay; the last born of 10 children. At the time of his birth in the summer of 1934, his father, whose passion was politics, was busy trying to make a living to support the family during the Great Depression, while also being involved in many protests and sit-ins. As a result, Gene was primarily raised by his mother and his older siblings.
He was a cute, blond little boy, who grew up in a warm and loving environment. Some would say he was spoiled, but not because of material things, as the family was poor like many others in those times. However, Gene received a great deal of attention from his mother and sisters as the youngest child. The family stuck together through good and bad times, and they shared what little they had with one another.
Gene learned at a very young age to care for farm animals, drive an old tractor, raise a garden, cut hay, and would even pick huckleberries commercially with his older brothers, as selling them was how the older brothers funded their college educations. He also learned how to work on cars. His older brother, Robert B. “Bob” McKay, who owned McKay Intermountain Shows (Carnival) later in life, was Gene’s idol and taught him to be ambitious, resourceful, energetic, compassionate, and tolerant of other people’s differences. Gene also helped his dad build the family home with wood and nails salvaged from the Great Northern Railroad.
Gene attended Columbia Grade School in East Hillyard, and entered John R Rogers High School in 1948 at the age of 14. At Rogers, Gene joined the drama program, where he participated in designing and building sets as a stagehand, and later acted in numerous plays. In 1950, Gene came up with a little money from selling a steer, so he negotiated with his brother Bob to buy his 1941 Hollywood Graham for $80. It was in need of serious repairs, but he worked on it through many late nights over the summer, and had it running to drive to school in the fall. He drove it on an eventful double date with his friend A.L. Lale, where he met the love of his life, Theresa Ann Kiehn. Theresa’s actual date was his friend A.L. Gene’s date had stood him up for somebody else that evening, but the three of them went to a dance at Newman Lake anyway. Much to A.L.’s dismay, it was Gene and Theresa that ended up hitting it off that evening, where they began dating and were inseparable from that time on, until Theresa passed away in 2017. Though A.L.’s son, Jay Lale, would later become the longtime partner of Gene and Theresa’s eldest child, Theresa L. (Dolla).
Following high school graduation in 1952 when Gene turned 18, he didn’t have a clue what he wanted to do with his life. He was working at Pacific Northwest Alloys Magnesium Plant and was involved in building a 1933 Plymouth Stock Car with a Dodge Hemi engine. He started stock car racing at the Havana Speedway, and racing cars became his passion. However, his good friend Dave Kohli, who was a year ahead of him, persuaded him to do something different with his life, and so he enrolled at Gonzaga University in the Engineering Department, where Dave was also attending. Gene enrolled in Mechanical Engineering at Gonzaga, and he then talked another friend, Delbert Reedy into enrolling with him. They studied difficult assignments together and eventually all 3 of them graduated with engineering degrees. Gene also joined Army ROTC at Gonzaga.
Gene and Theresa dated for 4 years and were married on December 23, 1954, at St. Patrick’s Church. Following his graduation from Gonzaga, Gene was assigned to a term of active duty as an Army officer at Fort Riley, Kansas (1958-1959). By this time, he and Theresa had two little ones, Theresa L. “Dolla”, and Gene T. “Bud”, who accompanied them on the move to Manhattan, Kansas. Once his company commander found out Gene knew something about mechanics, he was assigned the responsibility of overseeing a crew to repair 55 M-48 tanks that had been placed out of service for various reasons. Following the 2-year assignment in Kansas, the family settled back in Spokane. Gene and Theresa purchased the McKay family home in East Hillyard from his mother. Gene was then hired by Bovay Engineering in 1960. This was also the year their third child Shawn was born. Their fourth child Lisa was later born in 1965.
Through successive promotions, eventually Gene became the manager of the Spokane office of Bovay Engineering. In 1984, along with 6 other senior managers, they purchased the Spokane office and renamed it Bovay Northwest. In 1993, Bovay was purchased by Dames and Moore, although Gene remained the CEO until 1996, when he retired. Gene was also an active member of the Spokane Rotary and the United Way.
Retirement gave Gene more time to work on his passion, which was restoring antique automobiles. Some of them include: a cherry red 1937 Cord, a 1920 Studebaker, a 1928 Packard Roadster, a 1928 Packard Convertible Coupe, a 1952 Hudson Hollywood Hornet, a 1951 Hudson Convertible, a 1929 L-29 Cord, a 1955 Packard, a 1967 Toronado, and a 1966 Thunderbird, just to name a select few. In this same vein, he was a member and president of the Gem State Chapter of the HET (Hudson, Essex, Terraplane) Club, and a member and former president of the Hassie Club of Spokane. He enjoyed all of the meets and tours over the years, and sowed some very special friendship bonds with the people in the clubs. He enjoyed helping his friends repair their old cars, especially if they were Hudsons. He was known to always carry tools and extra parts to fix things, just in case. He really was “Doc Hudson”!
During retirement, Gene also helped design and build his children’s homes, which he was truly proud of; and he always had a project (or several) on his daily “to-do list”, right up to the end. But most of all, Gene and Theresa loved their grandchildren dearly and took them on many journeys to places such as Alaska, Nevada, Montana, Mount Rushmore, Canada, and Disney World.
At one time, Gene was awarded the “Distinguished Alumni from Gonzaga University” for his professional accomplishments in the engineering field. He was so honored that they recognized him for his accomplishments, and it was well deserved. But with all the things he accomplished in his amazing life, the greatest thing of all was the quality of the individual, and the amount of love he shared with his family and friends. He was the heart and soul of our family. He was outgoing, friendly, and had a unique sense of humor. There weren’t many problems that he couldn’t solve when he put his mind to them. He was genuine, sometimes tough, but kind and thoughtful to everyone. When he loved, it was with a passion, and he didn’t take his friends for granted. He loved music, singing, dancing, travel, having dinner at his kid’s homes, and giving sage advice to his grandchildren.
Gene is survived by his children, Theresa L. “Dolla” McKay, Gene T. “Bud” McKay (and wife Verna), Shawn M. McKay (and wife Tammy), and Lisa R. McKay-Sweeney, 12 grandchildren, as well as numerous nieces, nephews, and great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife of 62 wonderful years, Theresa, their fifth child John F. “Jack” McKay, his parents, John F. and Christie A. “May” McKay, brothers: John, Francis, Maurice, Thomas, and Robert McKay, and sisters: Christie Ruth Tauscher, Anne Marie Ohler, Rose Kloetsch, and Patricia “Patty” Wentworth.
The family will be holding a celebration of life at a later time due to the seriousness of the current pandemic.
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