St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital said David L. McKee, longtime chief operating officer at ALSAC, St. Jude’s fundraising arm, died in a car accident in the Memphis area Friday, August 17.
McKee over the past 35 years served in a variety of leadership roles at ALSAC, including CEO, chief operation officer and senior executive vice president.
During a February 2011 interview, McKee told me about his very first day on the job in December 1977, when he arrived at his regional office in Atlanta to find the building engulfed in flames, sparked by a fire at a neighboring deli. He called his wife and told her he hoped he’d made the right decision. St. Jude at that time did not have the brand reputation it has today, but McKee believed strongly in founder Danny Thomas’ life-saving mission of treating children with cancer and other catastrophic illnesses regardless of a family’s ability to pay.
McKee was instrumental in the creation of a number of fundraising programs and initiatives, including the St. Jude Country Cares radio program. During our interview last year, McKee commented on the Country Cares radio-thon, saying, “We made an attempt at it and the first year it failed. But it made me just all the more determined, and $400 million dollars later I was right. And it made me wonder what would’ve ever happened if I didn’t stick to it, believed in it and made it happen.”
McKee, who helped lead the his organization to record growth and its current status as the second largest health care charity, was named recipient of the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award by Fundraising Success magazine.
In a statement Saturday, ALSAC CEO Rick Shadyac said, “David McKee was so much more than one of the world’s great philanthropic leaders. He was a dear friend and mentor to me and many others who worked with him during his 35 year career at ALSAC. He also was a passionate advocate for the patients of St. Jude and for children everywhere who have benefitted from our work. We have lost one of the icons of our organization and his family is in our hearts and prayers.”
My work frequently takes me down the street to St. Jude to cover events, where it was always a pleasure to see Mr. McKee’s smiling face as he spoke with children and their families. There’s no doubt he was a phenomenal fundraiser, gifted with great business sense. But McKee was also a warm, kind, accessible human being, one who will be missed by so many.
In an e-mail Saturday, Angela Richmond, director of Public Relations for ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, said the entire staff is “so heartbroken by the news.”
ALSAC/St. Jude said details about funeral arrangements will be made public once they are finalized.