April 4, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 13

McNamara came here to fly, operate own business

Longtime Haines insurance broker and KHNS host Eugene McNamara died Feb. 20 in Sun City, Ariz. He was 90.

Gene McNamara

Son Jeff McNamara said the cause was old age. “He fell asleep and didn’t wake up.”

McNamara requested no service, but on St. Patrick’s Day the family gathered for a Gaelic poetry reading and released balloons at his daughter’s house in Phoenix.

His ashes will be scattered in Puget Sound and near the beach at Seattle’s Sand Point where McNamara, a former Navy pilot, once made headlines by safely crash-landing a Navy B-28 after one of its propellers failed.

Gene and Neila McNamara came to Haines from Seattle in 1975 after the youngest of their three children graduated from high school there. Gene bought the Chilkoot Insurance Agency serving Haines and Skagway and later added a Juneau office.

He sold the business in 2004 and retired to Arizona. As an insurance agent in Seattle he had worked with Alaskans since 1955 and came north to own his own business and pursue his main hobby – flying – the family said. He flew a Beechcraft Sundowner between the Lynn Canal offices, often accompanied by his wife and their Scottie, Stewie. “He was like their fourth child and was famous for tearing up the inside of the airplane,” Jeff said.

Paula Martin worked for McNamara in Haines for 30 years. “He was an easy person to work with. He never fussed about stuff, was real down to earth, and liked a good joke.” She also said he was a good insurance salesman who cared about the community. “He didn’t put pressure on anybody. Everybody knew Gene. He loved people and people responded to him.”

“I’m Gene,” was how he introduced himself on his long-running “Melodies and Memories” program radio show. “He paired Broadway show tunes with soft rock, Rod Stewart with Benny Goodman, America with Judy Garland, and he made it all work. People really connected with his passion,” program director Amelia Nash said. McNamara continued to produce shows for KHNS from Arizona for several years after leaving Haines.

For years after moving to Haines, McNamara wore a tie and wing-tipped shoes to work every day, said daughter Patty Chisom. “He was Mr. Brooks Brothers. He was very un-Haines-like.”

Eugene McNamara was born Nov. 26, 1922 in Arlington, Mass., the second of seven children born to John F. McNamara and Florence Riorden McNamara. He grew up in Garden City, N.Y. and was a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth. His father, an advertising agent and editor, died when Gene was 12. His parents’ purchase of an insurance policy enabled Gene’s mother to care for her family, and inspired Gene’s choice of career, his son said.

Gene met Neila Canon in Bellingham and they married on August 17, 1944. Gene’s father had been a military pilot in World War I and after his older brother joined the Army Air Corps, Gene joined the Navy and became a fighter pilot, serving in the Pacific Theater in World War II. He was later a squadron commander in the Korean conflict. The family settled in Seattle, where Gene sold insurance and was reserve commander at the Sand Point Naval Station for many years, his son Jeff said.

As a child Jeff McNamara said he helped his father spiff up his Navy uniform. “Before he went to inspect the troops, I’d polish his sword and shine his shoes. He’d fly his squadron right over our house. The neighbors would complain because it’d rattle the windows for 20 blocks.”

Jeff McNamara said his father taught him golf using Navy slang. “I learned to swear golfing with my Dad. He could string them together like no one else.”

McNamara’s radio sign off was much gentler. “So long,” he said at the end of every show, “Now you’re on your own.”

McNamara is survived by sisters Jane and Brenda, and three children, Patty Chisom of Phoenix, John F. McNamara of Belfair, Wash. and Jeff C. McNamara of Seattle; five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Cards may be sent to Neila, his wife of 68 years, at 18602 N. Twilight Way, Surprise, AZ 85374.