Twin Cities funeral director Marvin D. McKee, who in 1959 prepared the bodies of famed rockers Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens after they were killed in an airplane crash in Iowa, died on March 17 in Bedford, N.H., of an infection.
The longtime St. Paul resident was 85.
McKee, who owned the Hogan-McKee Funeral Home in Mason City, got a call on Feb. 3, 1959, to come to the site of an airplane crash in a farm field 5 miles northwest of Clear Lake.
"They certainly were my most famous patients," he told the Mason City, Iowa, Globe Gazette in 2004.
McKee, who moved with his family to St. Paul in 1967, had never heard of the musicians until he was called to the scene, said his daughter, Erin Merrigan of Minneapolis. They had played the night before at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake and were en route to Fargo, N.D., for the next stop on their tour in Moorhead.
Another funeral director embalmed the bodies of the two other victims, J.P. (Big Bopper) Richardson, and the pilot, Roger Peterson. Officials concluded that Peterson had become disoriented by the snowfall and flew the plane into the ground.
Bob Steinhagen, funeral director for Joseph S. Klecatsky & Sons Funeral Home in the Twin Cities, said the task became a bit of "a legacy" for McKee.
"It was kind of a conversation starter," said Steinhagen, and that other funeral directors over the years would recall McKee by his work that day on the famous musicians.
Steinhagen, who studied under McKee, counted him as a friend and mentor. "He took me under his wing professionally and socially," he said. "You always knew Marvin was in the room. He had a trademark personality, a very bubbly guy." McKee grew up in Iowa and after serving in the Navy during World War II, he completed training in mortuary science in 1947 in St. Louis.
After moving to Minnesota, he first worked in Minneapolis for Welander-Quist, later moving to Klecatskys' Funeral Home in Eagan, where he retired in 2003. Last summer, he moved to New Hampshire.
McKee enjoyed growing vegetables and made new friends by giving people his surplus crop of tomatoes. He also liked to fish, and took his Minnesota friends to Iowa for pheasant hunting in the fall.
Michael Scully of Hastings said McKee often marched in the St. Patrick's Day parade in St. Paul. "He was just proud of being Irish," said Scully, adding McKee was a friend who set a good example for others. He was very open about his feelings, and also supportive of others. I always admired him for that."
McKee's wife, Margaret, died in 1983.
In addition to Erin, he is survived by his other daughters, Kathleen (Katie) McKee of St. Paul, Mary (Meg) Lehman of Bedford, N.H., and eight grandchildren.
Services will be held at noon Wednesday at the Basilica of St. Mary, 88 N. 17th St., Minneapolis. Visitation will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Joseph S. Klecatsky & Sons Funeral Home, 1580 Century Point in Eagan, and at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Basilica.