Wrangler/writer/broadcaster William “Bill” L. McGee, age 94, rode peacefully to his last roundup on October 30, 2019, from his home in Napa Valley, California. Sandra wrote this tribute to her husband and partner of 38 years…
Bill McGee’s writing career spanned six decades
He wrote 22 books, all in his signature writing style described as journalistic, spare, straightforward, and “as precise and economical as a Mickey Spillane novel.” (Marine Corps League Magazine) Bill had the reputation of being a straight-shootin’ author. When asked about his writing habits, Bill said, in his deep voice and Montana drawl, “There’s only one way to write… ass in seat.”
Bill was born in Montana in 1925 and grew up cowboying
When describing Bill, I like to quote a line by South Dakota cowboy poet Charles Badger Clark: “Cowboys are the sternest critics of those who would represent the West. No hypocrisy, no bluff, no pose can evade them.” This describes Bill McGee. Gruff-natured and quick-tempered at times, but solid on qualities that mattered… dependability, trustworthiness, honesty.
Some described Bill as a Renaissance man
In 1950, Bill “hung up my Levis and boots for Brooks Brothers suits” (as he liked to say) and began the first of many careers. He discovered his talent for sales at Willys Jeeps in New Jersey; owned and operated an open pit barbeque restaurant in Northern California; became a major importer of wire and steel products on the West Coast in the world trade business; enjoyed a 32-year career in the broadcasting business; and, in his retirement years, launched his final career — World War II Pacific war military historian and memoirist.
In 1971, Bill launched his own company, Broadcast Marketing Company (BMC). Using his proven talents as a salesman and deal maker, he became an innovator and leader in broadcast sales and cooperative advertising. During the BMC years, from 1971 to 1984, Bill wrote eleven how-to sales guidebooks for television sales reps.
When Bill wasn’t working or writing, he loved the outdoors
He scaled the summits of mountains. He ran the Colorado River three times. He skied, played tennis, and golf. He hiked the trails in Yosemite, the Sierras, and the Tetons. He was one of the first volunteers to help build the Lake Tahoe Rim Trail.
Enter Sandra, 1981…
I’ve always had a fascination with the American cowboy
It didn’t take long to convince me that Bill McGee, a genuine cowboy-turned-writer and broadcaster, was the one for me. I was especially enthralled with his cowboying years from 1947 to 1949, when he was a dude wrangler on the Flying M.E., the famous Nevada divorce ranch twenty miles south of Reno. It was the heyday of the Reno six-week divorce era and Bill entertained Eastern socialites and Hollywood movie stars who stayed on the exclusive dude ranch, most for a six-week divorce and some for a vacation out West.
Bill tried to retire in 1984 at age 59. But after a year of golf and travel, he missed having a creative project in the works. That’s when he began his final career — WWII military historian and memoirist.
And I just happened to be a good typist
I always claimed Bill married me because I could type. It wasn’t long after we said our “I do’s” that he roped me in to type his manuscripts. At first, I said nothing; I just typed. Then I began gently suggesting an edit or two.
In 2001, we collaborated on our first book, The Divorce Seekers – A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler. Bill suggested I write a few chapters that called for a feminine viewpoint, such as the first thing a divorce seeker did when they arrived in Reno was to go to Parker’s and buy a Western outfit. He was so pleased with my contributions to the book — both in research and writing — he generously gave me co-author credit on the cover. We went on to collaborate on five more books — a WWII Pacific war history on logistics and four memoirs — and my name was on the cover of each, alongside his. Bill was a good editor. After he became legally blind in 2003, I read our manuscript pages aloud to him, and cringed when he raised a finger during the first sentence to stop me with an edit. However, he always improved the copy.
Our writing collaboration went on for 19 years. As husband and wife working together as writers, I think we did well — except, perhaps, for the urge to edit each other’s copy.
Opposites do attract
I was soft-spoken, loved ballet, and cappuccinos. Bill was outspoken, liked camping, and was fine with instant coffee. Despite our differences, we were happily married for 38 years. Once or twice a year, Bill willingly donned his Western tux to escort me to opening night at the ballet and other galas, but, as the saying goes, he never got above his Montana raisin’.
After Bill’s passing, I was participating in a Hospice Grief Group for spouses. It was suggested we each write a letter to our dearly-departed, and then write their letter back to us. In my letter to Bill, I would open by thanking him very much for bringing me into his writer’s world — as reluctant as I was to be a part of it — and then I would share this 1,000-word tribute with him. I think Bill would have responded to me with something like, “Well, Sandra, your tribute’s okay, but cut it in half, and edit.”
The ideas for Bill’s books came from his life and the history of which he was a part…
At the time of Bill’s passing, we had nine titles on Amazon. For more about each book, see the above Menu.
“Bill McGee is no armchair historian.…He’s lived what he writes about whether it’s joining the Navy in ’42 at age seventeen simply to get into the fight, or cowboying in the West in the postwar ’40s, or working in broadcasting in the early days of 1950s and ’60s television.”
– Barnaby Conrad, founder of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and author of Matador
In conclusion, a few favorite photographs of Bill McGee…