It was an image for the ages: an AP photograph that showed a 98-year-old retired veterinarian seeing his sixth Triple Crown winner.
The Columbian’s sports section ran the photo of Bill McGee’s face-to-face encounter with American Pharoah back in June as a segment of “Talking Points.”
Then a longtime local resident gave us something else to talk about: Gene Ritter told us that the retired vet — his second cousin — once lived in Vancouver.
Around 1930, McGee’s parents moved to Vancouver from Montana. He attended the long-gone Franklin School. “It was pretty close to the courthouse,” he recalled. After grade school, McGee went to Shumway Junior High — now the site of the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics.
The family moved back to Montana, and McGee started helping out a veterinarian based in Hamilton, Mont.
“Like most kids, I wanted to have a pony,” he said by phone from Kentucky. “I had a horse, so it was a natural progression up the ladder.”
He went to veterinary school at what’s now Washington State University and graduated in 1940. (His parents, Lloyd and Ada McGee, did return to Vancouver and lived here for the rest of their lives.)
McGee eventually became a partner in a renowned veterinary practice — Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Associates — in Lexington, Ky.
“Business around here picked up so much that we wound up with 64 vets and 150 assistants and stable staff and office staff,” McGee said. “As far as we know, it’s the largest equine practice in the world.”
In 1967, McGee became only the third person to receive WSU’s McCoy Award for outstanding work in the field of clinical veterinary medicine. McGee retired about 30 years ago after a distinguished career.
“Man o’ War was my most notable patient,” he said.
Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.