WILL McKee, who was one of Ireland’s most high-powered businessmen, has died in hospital after a short illness, surrounded by his family.
The start of Mr McKee’s working life was in contrast to his major contribution to business, given that he eventually became involved in international companies like Beleek Potteries, Moy Park, Ergas, Leckpatrick, Shell, Mivan and Paul Costelloe. And he wrote a highly-acclaimed book on business acumen - ‘STAR - Leadership Behaviours for Stellar SME Growth’. And he was chairman of Linkubator, a business development and consultation company.
He was educated at Portadown College, and left, not having been a great fan of the academic life, but particularly keen on sport, especially rugby. He retained his interest in the game, as a great fan of the Ulster and Irish teams. His first job was as a quarry worker, not far from his original family home in Moy. But he soon found his niche in business - initially as a salesman in the textiles world - and travelled the world, scanning the American, European and Asian markets.
Despite his global activities, he loved nothing more than going with his family to their holiday home in Dungloe, West Donegal. In his funeral tribute to his father on Tuesday at Mullavilly Parish Church, son Rick said that Will and wife Mary “stumbled upon a thatched shack on the side of a hill in the middle of nowhere - no plumbing, no water, no heat, but a turf fire and great fun.”
It became a family focus over the years, which Will, Mary and the generations that followed enjoyed to the full - their children Shane, Rick, John and Erin, daughters-in-law Joanne, Diane and Jane, son-in-law Niall, and grandchildren Lauren, Tom, Conor, Lewis, Daniel, Olivia, Ella and Ollie. He is also survived by his brother Philip.
Mr McKee lived for the past 10 years at Ballymore Road, Tandragee, near the original home of wife Mary (nee Mathers). They were married in 1968 and initially lived in Benburb, then Dungannon and Dunadry at various times, reflecting Will’s eclectic business life.
Mr McKee’s attitude towards business was not orientated towards money, but for the thrill of the chase. Rick recalled that “he was involved in some cracking projects and some howlers, but loved to be in the thick of it, making a business work”. Perhaps the most telling part of the tribute was that Will McKee cringed to see how business was presented on the TV programme ‘The Apprentice’ where the dog-eat-dog attitude simply wasn’t the way he viewed life.
He was direct in all his dealings, and had a deep moral code that treasured people beyond all else - he was an encourager and a supporter of his colleagues, and had a great rapport with the small business person.
Through his training and development programmes, he saw many of his young students go on to great things in business, and that pleased him most of all. And, despite all his expertise, he didn’t under-estimate the role that pure luck played in the business world.
He also shared his ideas through technology with his own website and blogs, not only giving tips on business but commentating on life and everything from climate change to business, politics to personal attitude - his energy and expertise can still be followed on his website - ‘willmckee.ie’.
His family meant most of all to him, and he was especially proud of his wife Mary’s contribution to the Gospel Music world - she made several records under the title of ‘Mary McKee and Genesis’. She still sings on the circuit, mainly for charity.
The funeral at Mullavilly Parish Church saw the building and the parish hall crowded with mourners, around 800. The Rector, the Rev Sam Black, conducted the service and burial was in the adjoining churchyard.