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McGee, William

February 29, 2004
Sonoma, CA
William McGee, a former priest whose wit and warmth helped recovering alcoholics and perplexed Latin students, died Sunday in a bicycling accident in rural Sonoma County. He was 79.

His passions were people, and he captured his world in photographs or in poems that flowed from his pen - stanzas that sparkled with life's joys and mysteries. Friends described him as a man with a "different heartbeat.'

His best poems were Valentine's Day odes given annually to his wife, Alice Waco, a former nun and a retired teacher.

Mr. McGee ran marathons and triathlons with the Werewolf Running Club from the 1970s to the 1990s and also enjoyed local and long-distance rides on his road bike.

"I couldn't think of anybody else better to do a long ride with than Bill McGee,' said Craig Gaevert.

Born in 1925 in Marquette, Mich., he helped support his family when his father, a train engineer, died. His first job, at age 10, was at a bakery.

After graduating from high school in 1942, Mr. McGee studied Latin and philosophy in Canada before attending a seminary in Milwaukee. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1956 and founded the Newman Center that serves students at the University of Michigan in Houghton. . A Fulbright theology fellowship brought him to UC Berkeley in the 1960s.

In 1972, he became the resident priest at St. Benedict's Deaf Center in San Francisco. Later, he met Alice Waco, a nun, and they eventually left the church and were married in Santa Rosa in 1974.

That year, Mr. McGee began teaching Latin at the Santa Rosa Junior College, captivating students by singing chants in Latin.

Mr. McGee, who in 1978 received a master's degree in alcohol studies in a joint program offered by UC Berkeley and the Pacific School of Religion, worked as a substance abuse counselor at the Orenda Center in Santa Rosa.

Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. next Thursday at St. Leo the Great Church, 601 W. Agua Caliente Road, Sonoma. A celebration of his life will follow at 1 p.m. at the East Recreation Center, Oakmont Boulevard, Oakmont.

Mr. McGee is survived by his wife, brothers Jim McGee of Marquette, Mich., and Chuck McGee of Green Bay, Wis., and his sisters Alice Tyler of Albuquerque, N.M., and Pat Ley of De Pere, Wis.

Donations may be made to the Friends of Cantera in Nicaragua, 918 Benton St., Santa Rosa, CA 95404; or the Peace and Justice Center, 457 Sebastopol Ave. , Santa Rosa, CA 95401.

Pamela J. Podger, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2004