Vail Daily column: Era closes with careers
Vail Deputy Fire Chief Mike McGee’s recent retirement didn’t complete a changing of the guard, but close.
A couple of the pioneering professionals who evolved through the mostly-volunteer days to today’s modern fire department still hold down the fort. Fire Marshal Mike Vaughan and wildland firefighting and mitigation supervisor Tom Talbot can regale you at the firehouse with stories from the early 1980s from direct memory.
McGee brings up the rear otherwise of a bunch including Al Bosworth, Kraige Kinney, Cooter Overcash, Jim Spell and ex-Chief John Gulick who worked together for more than 30 years before time came a knocking. McGee called it good at 38 years this month.
Personally, I’m doubly jealous of these guys. They had the career denied me by knee injuries eight years into it with the Forest Service in Santa Barbara, and they each had their career here. Perfect job in the perfect place. Hard to beat that.
Among the blessings of small town life is knowing some of them outside work. Gulick was a neighbor at our first home up the Brush Creek Valley. We know the Kinneys through our daughters, who grew up together. And the McGees through cross country when kids from the other schools all ran for Battle Mountain, and our wives worked together for about a decade.
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Let’s just say the hard-ass I heard about at his retirement party a couple of weeks ago at the west Vail fire station sounded a little different than the proud papa watching his daughter Molly tear up the course at cross country meets.
Judge Buck Allen chuckled when I suggested maybe a wee bit of exaggeration in the speeches. He and McGee joked about how a line of folks whose fire code issues rolled through court over the years had to be double checking in their giddiness that McGee indeed was leaving.
I don’t doubt some of the pups found their ears scorched a time or two when McGee felt compelled to bark, as I well remember myself as an at-times rambunctious 20-something-year-old in this business. A good growling now saves lives later.
Fire and rescue is serious stuff. I can actually see that McGee made sure this was well understood and didn’t mind bristling when called upon to make the message crystal.
Gruff, laconic? Maybe. I just remember a dad who was kindred to my hotshot crew buddies back in the day. Wry sense of humor, speak when you have something to say, great storyteller.
My colleagues in journalism have tended to enjoy using the felicity in language that selected them so well for this profession, if you get my drift. So maybe a bit of nostalgia crept in at those cross country meets, along with enjoying hanging out with another dad while waiting for the kids to run, then cheering for them.
Another image holds clear in my mind — from near the end of my son’s wedding reception outside the Chophouse in Beaver Creek. It was late, and I knew I definitely wasn’t going to be driving that night. But I remember the world shrinking to just the conversation I was having with McGee, which had turned into something philosophical and profound even beyond what weddings naturally inspire. I had the notion we each were a little surprised the other thought like this.
I recalled this moment while speakers at the party mentioned McGee’s intellectual range as one of those rare individuals who can hold his own in any discussion about any topic — from, say, applications of pi in engineering to why Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics” still matters.
I found myself nodding, although I can’t remember through the haze of time, and perhaps a beverage or two, the substance of that talk so far afield from our normal conversations.
Vail, like many fire and other organizations facing the exodus of a generation, will miss the accumulated knowledge and experience of the able veterans wrapping up their careers around the same time. Perhaps none more so than McGee, though.
Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2920.