John Key McKinley passed peacefully in the comfort of his home surrounded by his loving family in Dallas, on the morning of June 12, 2014. He was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on March 24, 1920 to a family of educators. His father, Vergil Parks, McKinley was a college professor, and his mother, Mary Emma Key McKinley, was an elementary education school teacher.
John was educated in Tuscaloosa, graduating from Tuscaloosa High School in 1937. Living on campus, he was able to walk out the door to The University of Alabama where he earned a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering, and a M.S. degree in Organic Chemistry in four years. While in college, he was a cadet in the ROTC, rising to the rank of Cadet Colonel, and Brigade Commander. He was inducted into Tau Beta Pi, and the Scabbard and Blade Society, and was a member of The University of Alabama (Capstone) Engineering Society.
Immediately after receiving his M. S., he joined Texaco on May 29, 1941, as a chemical engineer engaged in grease research at the Port Arthur refinery in Texas. As a result of the escalating conflict in Europe, on August 15, 1941 he was called to active service as a reserve officer with the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Army. For four and a half years during World War II he wore the Army uniform. The Army ordered the Alabama boy to Newfoundland and put him on skis. After Pearl Harbor he reported to Fort Bragg for additional training, and ultimately shipped out to England on the Queen Mary. After D-Day, in August of 1944, he landed on Utah Beach and fought across France, Belgium and Germany. He saw action in numerous battles, including the Battle of the Bulge as the Allied troops advanced through Western Europe and onto Berlin. As a result of his valor in a pivotal battle for the Roer River, he received the Bronze Star and eventually rose to the rank of Major.
Upon returning to Port Arthur and Texaco, he met the love of his life, Helen Grace Heare. After only one date, John proposed and soon after they married on July 19, 1946. They were blessed with two sons John Key McKinley, Jr., and Mark Charles McKinley.
Over the next 45 years, he held numerous positions worldwide with Texaco. In the research and development area he held over a dozen patents for petroleum additives and grease components. He continued his education, and graduated from the Advanced Management Program at Harvard University in 1962. In 1971 he was elected President of Texaco, and in 1980, the Board of Directors elected him as Chairman, President and CEO of Texaco. He served in that capacity until he retired from Texaco in 1986 after 45 years of service, and he always cherished his Texaco family. John later served as a consultant to ChevronTexaco Corporation.
John and Helen spent their ensuing years enjoying their friends and family. They enjoyed their homes in Darien, Connecticut and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but their most cherished memories were always at the Steerhead Ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming. More than anything, he loved having people up to the ranch to enjoy a taste of the “McKinley Culture” and a “Ride for the Brand” on the Eastern Slope of The Bighorn Mountains.
Above all else John, Dad, Pops, aka JK will be remembered as a turtle with a hard shell and a soft heart. Born into a family of educators, he was always trying to teach those around him. He was a proud American patriot, a teacher, a mentor, a gentle giant, and he always noticed the efforts of others. John was a marksman, and if he aimed at a target, he usually hit it.
John served on the Board of Directors of many companies including Texaco Inc., Federated Department Stores, Burlington Industries, Martin Marietta Corporation, Merck & Co., Inc., Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, Manufacturers Hanover Corporation, and Apollo Computer, Inc. He also served on the Board of Directors of organizations including the Metropolitan Opera, The Peregrine Fund, The Americas Society, Business Council for Effective Literacy and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
John received Honorary Doctorate of Law degrees from both the University of Alabama in 1972 and Troy University in 1974. He was also active in various civic and professional organizations, including the Brookings Council, the Business Council – Washington DC, and Presidents Commission on Executive Exchange. He was awarded the George Washington Honor Medal by the Freedoms Foundation and the Gold Medal by the National Institute of Social Sciences. In 1982 he was inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame, and in 1983 was installed in the Alabama Academy of Honor. In 1984 he was given The American Eagle Award by the Invest-In-America National Council, and the Wallace Award by the American-Scottish Foundation. Also, in 1984 the Belgian Government presented John with the Commandeur de L’Ordre de la Courrone, the highest decoration awarded to a corporate leader in recognition of significant contributions to Belgium’s economic sector.
John enjoyed many club affiliations, and made many friends with the staff and members of those great clubs. He was a member of Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia; The Alfalfa Club in Washington, D.C.; North River Yacht Club in Tuscaloosa; Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, Connecticut; Blind Brook Country Club in Purchase, New York; Clove Valley Rod and Gun Club in LaGrangeville, New York; The Brook and The Links clubs both in New York.
In 1987, John and Helen McKinley established the Merrymac McKinley Foundation, Inc., a charitable organization designed to benefit charities, educational institutions, and to provide scholarships and awards to individual students, educators and non-faculty members. Annual endowments and donations (creating over 30 scholarships and recognition awards) have been made to The University of Alabama, Troy University, Shelton State University, Southern Methodist University, Texas A & M Foundation, Trinity University, as well as a host of other worthy causes. Both John and Helen proudly served as Directors, along with other members of the McKinley family.
Despite all of John’s great accomplishments, the partnership of 55 years with Helen was his greatest. They were a great team.
He is predeceased in death by his parents, Vergil Parks and Mary Emma, his brother, Richard, and his wife Helen Grace. He is survived by his two sons John and Mark, his daughter-in-law Karla, and his three grandchildren Key, Madison, and Charlie.
A memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. at the Steerhead Ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming.
The family would love for all friends to send their photos and memories to Rememberingjohnkeymckinley@mkresources.com
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Merrymac-McKinley Foundation Gift Fund at The University of Alabama; the McKinley Award Fund at Troy University, or the Tip of The Spear Foundation. For additional information, please check websites, or call Vickie Smith at 214-922-9033.