Dr. William R. McGee, the last veterinarian to treat Man o' War, who also treated many more of racing's greats, died Aug. 4 in Naples, Fla. He was 100.
McGee specialized in management of breeding stock, and over the years was on the forefront of advances in that specialty. Such advances were instrumental in a sea of change in Thoroughbred breeding, as the old practice of limiting a stallion to some 40 mates a year segued into the current practice of breeding a single stallion to 150 or more mares each year. Over his more than four decades of practice, McGee also studied and utilized improvements in parasite control in horses.
McGee once created a makeshift operating table to perform surgery on a ruptured bladder in a foal, a conditioned then regarded as virtually a death sentence. McGee saved that foal, and surgery for that malady became routine.
McGee was born the same year as Man o' War and they were destined to another connection. McGee treated Man o' War for pain and discomfort prior to the horse's death in 1947. He was one of nine speakers during the national radio broadcast of Man o' War's funeral.
As an acknowledged and visible leader in his profession, McGee was a frequent author on veterinary medicine, and in addition to his vast United States clientele, he was recruited as a consultant by horsemen in England, Ireland, Frace, Italy, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia. He received many awards and was a former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners Society For Theriogenology.
A network of friendships led to the launch of his veterinary career in Kentucky. The Lexington, Ky., veterinary practice E. T. Hagyard & Sons was established by Dr. Edward Hagyard, who earlier worked in Montana for Marcus Daly, a Thoroughbred owner and breeder and copper mine magnate. As a result the Hagyards and McGees had mutual friends. Dr. Charles Hagyard, by then running his family's veterinary practice, invited McGee to Lexington for a one-year internship, which turned into a longstanding business relationship.
Eventually the firm was renamed Hagyard-Davidson-McGee, in which the other partner was Dr. Art Davidson.
McGee was born Feb. 1, 1917, in Corvallis, Mont. He lettered in football, basketball, and track in high school, and worked in his father's livery stable and as a blacksmith in logging camps. He attended the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, from which he graduated in 1939.
In 1991 McGee was honored by his alma mater with the Distinguished Veterinary Alumnus Award. He and Davidson were joint honorees of the 1992 Testimonial Dinner of the Thoroughbred Club of America. McGee was president of that Lexington-based club in 1967.
"The life and career of Dr. William R. McGee epitomized the essence of the consummate equine veterinary practitioner and professional colleague," said. Dr. Stuart Brown, of the enduring veterinary firm that since 2004 has been named Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. "His dedication and compassion to the patients under his care are as legendary as the many renowned heroes of the turf that experienced his skillful expertise.
"It is remarkable to reflect on his career from his arrival in our practice as an intern to more recent years, when we have enjoyed his presence in welcoming our incoming intern classes at Hagyard Equine Medical, and watch as they listened closely to his words and those lessons that remained as insightful and inspirational to this very day. ... It is by no mistake that the practice's renowned equine internal medicine service is housed in the facility that bears his name, the McGee Medicine Hospital. It serves as a daily reminder of his legacy to all of us in dedication to patient care and commitment to the lives of all those around us in service."
"Dr. McGee was a pioneer in the advancement of veterinary services for the breeding industry as we know it today," said Dr. Gary Lavin, also a past AAEP president and Thoroughbred Club honoree. "I was privileged to intern with him and learn firsthand his wonderful talent. He was, indeed, the consummate gentleman."
McGee owned and lived on Winton Farm in Lexington. He was preceded in death four years ago by his wife, Alice, whom he married prior to moving to Kentucky. He is survived by his two sons, William R. McGee Jr. and Michael McGee, and grandchildren Regan McGee, Ali Kelly, and Michael McGee. He is also survived by a great-grandchild, Kyra McGee, and a step-great-grandchild, Elise Miller.
Milward Funeral Directors, in Lexington, are handling arrangements.