Gay firefighter, first responder to Pentagon on 9/11, dies

By Lou Chibbaro Jr. Washington Blade

Phillip Curtis McKee III, a businessman, stained glass artist and firefighter who was among the first to respond to the fire at the Pentagon caused by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, died May 31 at a hospital in Fairfax City, Va. He was 41.

Family members attribute McKee’s death to complications from injuries and illness linked to three days of fighting the Pentagon fire following the 9/11 attack, including inhalation of toxic dust, a severe leg injury that resulted in him being wheelchair bound, and a prolonged bout of post-traumatic stress disorder.

McKee’s husband and partner of 15 years, Nopadon McKee, said the injuries forced Phillip McKee to retire from his job as a firefighter due to disability. Although he displayed “tremendous courage” in persevering as an artist, businessman, and author over the next 12 years, the injuries and his struggle with PTSD took its toll, Nopadon McKee said.

“He succumbed to his injuries,” a statement released by the family says.

Phillip McKee was born in Portsmouth, Va., and lived in his early years in Corpus Christi, Kingsville and San Antonio, Texas. He did undergraduate studies at Yale University and graduate studies at Harvard University in Medieval history as well as economic and diplomatic history, and held a fellowship at Princeton University, a biographical statement prepared by family members says.

At the time of his university studies he became interested in the medium of stained glass and eventually became a stained glass artist and owner of a small business selling stained glass artwork, including his own.

Sandra Martinez, McKee’s aunt, said McKee entered a Catholic seminary for a short period of time after completing his university studies before moving to Washington, D.C. to work in the field of computer and internet security with the National Fraud Information Center.

While working in this position he founded Capitol Web Services in 1998 as a part-time web-based business.

According to Martinez, McKee, who had been serving as a volunteer fireman in the Maryland suburbs, informed his family in early 2001 that he decided to change his career and become a firefighter with the Arlington County, Va., Fire Department about six months prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“[A]fter all of that education, I chose to become a firefighter,” McKee wrote in a message appearing on his business website McKeestaindedglass.com.

“Needless to say, this was not greeted with much enthusiasm by my family,” he wrote. “However, a firefighter’s work schedule gave me the free time I needed and I was able to pursue my other passion – glass art!” he wrote.

“Since 9-11, stained glass has become an even greater part of my life as I went through rehabilitation for injuries suffered at the Pentagon,” he said in his website message. “Glass has provided me with a creative outlet that I have sorely needed during this most difficult time in my life and in the life of our country.”

He went on to publish two books on stained glass art, including the acclaimed Make It or Break It: Stained Glass for Beginners.

A biographical statement prepared by Nopadon McKee and Martinez says Phillip and Nopadon have been a couple since 1998 and were joined in a religious wedding ceremony in 2006 at Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale, Va.

Nopadon McKee said the two proudly proclaimed their marriage to friends, family members and co-workers even though it is not legally recognized by the government.

In 2009, in spite of his disability and ailments, Phillip and Nopadon began mentoring a teenager they met that year and later adopted. Nate McKee is currently a college student, the biographical statement says.

“Phillip touched many lives throughout his forty years and will be remembered for many great accomplishments, but the most outstanding was his unselfish and brave act on 9-11,” the statement says.

Nopadon McKee, a Metro transit police officer who legally changed his name to McKee after he and Phillip McKee married, said he and Phillip have long been out as gay men at their jobs. He said Phillip McKee was out while working for the Arlington County Fire Department.

The Fire Department and some of its members are expected to participate in a funeral tribute for Phillip McKee scheduled for June 11 that will begin at the fire station in the Cherrydale section of Arlington to which McKee had been assigned at the time of the 9-11 attack at the Pentagon, Martinez said. The service itself is scheduled to take place at Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale at 11 a.m.

A wake and viewing is scheduled to be held Sunday, June 9, at the same church from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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