In Memoriam, John McKew

William Conway_0000_John McKewWe in the WCS Archives were saddened to learn of the passing of John McKew, early Monday, May 19.  John, who was 81, worked for WCS for over 30 years and had a profound impact in shaping many parts of the organization. Senior Conservationist and former WCS President William Conway has written a note in tribute, which he has allowed us to post here.  

In 1962, NYZS employed its first “personnel manager,” John McKew. The need was emphasized by a disagreeable AFSCME strike in 1961. John, a lawyer by training, had worked at the National Labor Conference Board, and in his choice we had gotten lucky. John retired in 1999 as Vice President of Administrative Services.

John McKew

John McKew (Photo by William Conway)

John became exceptionally important in NYZS development, a part of the core administrative team and often my right-hand man on non-animal matters. Besides, he soon grew beyond NYZS to fulfill an advisory role for many New York quasi-public cultural institutions. As labor and personnel relationships changed, it became evident that the cultural institutions and their non-traditional relationship with city support of personnel was evolving, too. John played an advisory role with both institutions and also city officials. After John convinced me to add Tim O’Sullivan to our team, we frequently found ourselves in an intermediary fix-it position.

Shrewd, careful and devoted to keeping copious notes, John proved the perfect back-up in my almost constant negotiations with city and other officials.  I asked him to help me with negotiations in Trinidad regarding the Beebe Station, to go with Jim Doherty to arrange our giant panda loan (which had been arranged by Mayor Koch, although we had not sought it) and, when a staff gap occurred in guest services leadership, I asked him to help out until we could fill it. For four long years, John backed me up at the negotiating table with three separate park commissioners and their counselors as we finally effected the City Zoos annexation.

At the same time, John took on the task of initiating salary and personnel surveys and practices for the AZA, gradually bringing more order and professionalism to conditions of employment in the zoo profession. He is one of several outstanding colleagues who played a key role in the development of almost every aspect of the Society for more than 30 years.

John relished his Irish ancestry and spoke more than a bit of Gallic. Regularly visiting his relatives in the “Old Country,” he would return each time with a new batch of stories, usually sorted to highlight their humor and Irishness. For those of us who grew to know him he became not only an esteemed colleague but a close and affectionately treasured friend.

— William Conway, May 20, 2014

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