“Fair Winds and Following Seas” is a toast or salutation between mariners. It implies that a ship will have favorable winds and not have to pound into the waves, for on a perfect sailing day, the wind direction is the same as the waves. Such was the life of my father – Rear Admiral Thomas Wayne McKean, USN (Retired). A dear neighbor wrote to my mother this week, “Tom was a great man of so much knowledge and character.” Dad was born to Dr. Gorman F. McKean and Elmira (Stanley) McKean on May 18, 1928 in Adams County, Indiana. He lived his younger years until college in the small farming community of 1,800 in Montpelier, Indiana. In high school, Dad excelled in athletics as he earned three letters in basketball, three in track, and four in baseball, as well as played saxophone in the band. However, to do well in academics, it was not always “smooth sailing” as Dad had to make the extra effort to do well.
In 1946 – a year after World War II ended – Dad graduated high school and headed to Indiana University. In God’s sovereignty on the first day of Dad’s freshman English Class, he met his future wife – my Mom – Marilyn Ruth “Kim” Kimberlin. He also pledged Sigma Chi Fraternity where decades later he was recognized as a “Significant Sig”. Inspired, I too pledged Sigma Chi as a freshman some 25 years later.
During his college years, Dad developed a desire to go into the Navy, so he joined ROTC. Following in the steps of his father who was a dentist, Dad was accepted into Indiana University Dental School in 1949 and was awarded a full Navy scholarship. In 1952 on August 9th, Dad married the love of his life – Mom! Upon graduation in 1953, he was commissioned a Lieutenant JG.
I was his first child born on May 31, 1954 and named Thomas Wayne II. He did not “meet me” until six months later as he was “at sea” serving with the Marines in the Sahara Desert alongside the French Foreign Legion. To complete his sea duty, although tough on Mom, they left for four months to the Caribbean where he was involved in the movie Away All Boats starring Jeff Chandler. My awesome brother “Randall” was named for Dad’s first ship the USS Randall APA 224. “Randy” was born on February 29, 1956 during Dad’s tour at the Naval Academy. Eight years later while serving at the Boston Naval Shipyard, his precious daughter Dana was born on May 3, 1964.
After completing his residency in Oral Surgery at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in 1965, Dad had the great honor to be stationed on the then newest aircraft carrier in the Navy, the USS America CVA 66. While serving on the USS America during the Vietnam War, Dad performed surgery on hundreds of critically wounded soldiers. After two years, our family was elated that Dad passed the Maxillofacial Surgery Boards and was promoted to Captain.
A year or so later, it was as the Commander of the Naval Hospitals of the Southern United States that Dad encountered the rough seas of prejudice and chauvinism in the Navy. Yet it was then that Dad further distinguished himself. Courageously risking his future advancement in rank by taking a stand for civil rights and women’s rights, Dad relieved senior officers (not in authority but in years to him) of their commands when he found miscarriages of justice and equality. Later because of his optimistic perseverance, Dad was given two bronze irons as bookends, because he always exhorted those under his charge – no matter the cost or the challenges – “Press on!”
In 1980, I still remember Dad phoning me and enthusiastically sharing about the call he just received from the Surgeon General congratulating him on being selected to be one of only four Admirals in the US Naval Dental Corps. Though Dad was controversial for his convictions, Admiral George Besbekos was instrumental in Dad being selected as the first Oral Surgeon Admiral in the history of the Navy. In 1982, Dad was promoted to RADM – UH (upper-half) and became the first dentist to hold the illustrious office of Inspector General for the Medical/Dental Department of the Navy. Again historic, for most have a higher regard for “life-saving doctors” over “mere dentists” Of course, Dad was a maxillo-facial surgeon that did save many lives. With our incredible mother traveling with him, Dad literally inspected US Naval Hospitals around the world from London to Cairo to Manila in his final post for three years. Dad retired on October 1, 1985 at only 57 years old after 36 years in the Navy.
Ever active, Dad became Chairman of the Florida Hospital Foundation Board in 1994. He later served for 16 years as a Founder and Chairman of Florida Shares of the Florida Hospital Foundation of International Medical Missions. I was very moved that in Dad’s retirement years, his faith in Christ and in the power of prayer significantly grew through the “Healing Ministries” and the First United Methodist Church of Winter Park. One of Dad’s favorite Scriptures was, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” (James 5:16-17) Dad humbly believed that his prayers – as well as countless others – cured Randy of cancer as a teen, restored me to health from boils in my college years, and healed Elena of bone cancer three years ago.
Dad also was very involved in his beloved Village on the Green in Longwood, Florida, where Dad and Mom have lived for over six years, and where Dad’s parents – Grampy and Grammy – spent their final happy years. Dad has spent his energies to improve this amazing place, especially advocating for the expansion of the Health Center. Earlier this year, Dad – forever a patriot – addressed the residents of Village on the Green concluding with the stirring words, “Remember that it is the veteran who has given us freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, the right to a fair trial, the right to vote, and the honor to salute the flag. God Bless America!” The final highlight of Dad’s life was just three months ago on August 9th, as Dad and Mom celebrated their 65th Wedding Anniversary. Dad passed away at age 89 on Saturday morning, November 18, 2017 at the Village on the Green. As Dad would have it, he passed quietly while sitting on a bench after winning his final Bocce Ball Match.
Dad was the adored patriarch of the McKean Family. His legacy of fighting for and expecting moral excellence remains through his best friend – Mom, their three children, seven grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. Dad was my first hero and has been and forever will be a guiding light. I am confident that his charge and prayer for all of us would simply be, “MAKE ‘Fair Winds and Following Seas!’”