Mike McFee: You Never Get A Second Chance To Make A First Impression
By Mary Ellen Thompson | Mike is the Three Musketeers rolled into one. He’s spent his life celebrating, cherishing, promoting and protecting Beaufort. He has never wavered from this mission and it’s all been finessed with charm, loyalty and the utmost sincerity.” -Marilee Sartori-
Mike’s mother, Lila Claire Haigh McFee, was born in Beaufort. She met his dad, Charles Andrew McFee, called Mac, when he was working at the Naval Hospital and she was working for the Red Cross. One of six children, spanning an age gap of thirteen years, Mike was born at The Naval Hospital in Beaufort but lived all over the East Coast during the times the family followed his father’s career in the Naval Hospital Medical Service Corps. Beaufort was always home port and the McFees kept a house here while they were living in places like Portsmouth NH, Kittery ME, Newport RI, Jacksonville FL, Jacksonville NC, East Greenwich RI, Bethesda MD, Patuxent River MD and Woodbridge VA. Mike started school in Rhode Island, but when his dad was stationed in Vietnam, the family moved back to Beaufort for 14 months and he attended Beaufort Elementary and Mossy Oaks Elementary. They came back again when Mike was in the tenth grade and he graduated from Beaufort High, like his mother and grandmother before him.
What does he remember about all those places and moves? He remembers sailing extensively on a 44-foot Naval Academy Yawl when they lived in Maryland because his mother loved to sail. He remembers going to three schools in one year when they lived in Virginia. He remembers that with six children in the family that they were all put into service driving the younger ones to band practice, sports, school and other activities. Some of his best memories are of coming back to Beaufort and Hunting Island for a period of time every summer. His father’s family is from Asheville, NC, so trips there were interspersed with travel to Europe and across America. “We saw a lot of people and learned about so many cultures, I still have friends around the world. But the beauty of growing up in a small town, even though we traveled, was that if you did something on Bay Street, your mom knew about it before you got home!”
After graduating from Beaufort High, where he played “at” tennis, sang in the chorus, managed the girls basketball team, was in the student government and a member of various clubs and organizations, Mike went to the University of South Carolina. His original intention was to study medicine and hospital administration and follow in his father’s footsteps. But when seven more years of education loomed before him, he changed his major to business and biology. After graduation, he accepted a job in the trust department at the Bank of Beaufort. He stayed with the bank through a series of mergers and then joined Carolina Management Company where he was a project co-ordinator and property manager. Mike has been a realtor since 1981 and a broker since 1983. In the early 1990’s, he left Carolina Management and joined with Pat Harvey-Palmer at Hometown Realty, which is where he still is today.
A past President of the Chamber of Commerce, Mike also served on several Blue Ribbons panels, Tourism Management Advisory and the Waterways Commissions. “I served on those committees and commissions and saw what was happening, and more – what wasn’t happening. It whet my appetite for politics. I had uncles who were County Administrator, City Administrator and Superintendent of Roads and Bridges. I grew up hearing their stories of county and city government.”
In 2008, Mike was first elected to City Council. “I wanted to contribute something to the community. I am old fashioned, I think of it as public service. I’ve always been very honored at the trust the citizens have given me.” Mike may feel honored at the trust awarded him, but he has earned every bit of it. He has served on the boards of the United Way, USC Small Business Development Center, Alzheimer’s Association, American Red Cross and Caroline Hospice.
He has a particular affection for his participation with the South Carolina Service Council for the American Red Cross. “My aunt traveled with the Red Cross, and my mother was involved as well. Part of it was the military influence but also all the things the Red Cross does. I have worked with them since I was 17 on the State Service Council, the State Consortium, and as a member of the Clara Barton Society.”
The Carteret Methodist Church is also important to Mike in a variety of ways, “Several of the Circles and Societies are named for family members, everyone in my family was baptized there including my mother and grandmother. My former wife, Lisa, and I were married in that church as well as two of my siblings. I’m in the Chancel choir, and have served on the Pastor Parish Relations Committee and the Worship Committee.”
In his free time, if you can imagine from all the above commitments that he actually has any free time, Mike likes to play tennis, he loves boating and he walks 4 1/2 miles every morning with lifelong friend, Marie Radford Lewis. Whenever possible, he joins his sister’s chorale (Mesilla Valley Chorale, Las Crusas, NM) which travels to France for the Fête de la Musique. “With lots of brushing up” he says, “I am conversant in French.” Living on the water, Mike likes to swim in the river, he loves to garden and has created a beautiful memorial garden for his sister, Trish, filled with the gardenias she so loved. Cooking is one of his fortés, and Mike will give you a good debate on the virtues of either Gouda or feta in a tomato pie recipe. Entertaining is another; he’s adroit at popping a champagne cork and as an accomplished pianist, it isn’t unusual for Mike to sit down at his piano and encourage friends to sing with him as he plays. He recently performed in Handel’s Messiah, was co-music director for that wonderful production 8 Track – the Music of the 70’s, and was assistant music director for the Honkey Tonk Angel Holiday Spectacular last December, all performed at USCB Center for the Arts.
A much anticipated highlight of his year is the annual family reunion. “We don’t go where anyone lives. All 26 of us go somewhere for a long weekend; we’ve taken cruises, commandeered entire B&B’s across America, and are planning a trip to Ireland and Scotland in 2015.” The siblings consist of Mike’s brothers Richard, Matthew and Robert, and his sister Cathy, who live all over the country; dad Mac lives in Beaufort with his wife, Joanne. Mike says there is music wherever they go. “We’re Scotch-Irish, we all sing. The family will sing at the drop of a hat. We had a reunion in Cheyenne and we went to a piano bar one evening. The piano player didn’t show up that night so we took over. We were having such a grand time that the other patrons put money in the tip jar on the piano and we started playing requests! We leave a mark everywhere we go!”
The entire family is talented. Mac McFee is an avid hunter and fisherman who designs and ties his own flies. Mike says that when his uncle Joe comes to visit his dad, there are fish stories flying everywhere. His dad also likes to garden and grow pecans; his lesser talent these days is climbing up ladders to pick said pecans. Joanne was a teacher and is a very talented seamstress, quilter and artist. Mike says she is also an exceptional baker. Godmother Chloe Martin Pinckney, is Mike’s dear friend, neighbor and was his surrogate mother when his own beloved mother died of cancer thirty years ago.
Art, and exceptional pieces of hand crafted furniture made for him by godfather Roger Pinckney, fill his house. Mike’s dining room table was crafted from white cherry grown on his aunt and uncle’s property. The huntboard in the dining room was made especially for that room, as well as a wonderful coffee table. An eclectic collector, his home is filled with all sorts of unusual items including works by local artists and friends such as Dusty Connor, Marilee Sartori, Sally McTeer Chaplin, Gilbert Maggioni and Joanne McFee.
With his background and variety of interests extending as far as they do wide, it’s difficult to imagine that he can do all these things, do them all well, and still have time to be a beloved friend to so many. There is a simple truth about Mike McFee: he truly is a prince among men.
Original story by Mary Ellen Thompson for Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine. To read more about the wonderful people, places and events of Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands, pick up your copy of Beaufort Lifestyle at nearly 200 locations throughout the Beaufort area or check it out online. Photos by Susan DeLoach