Daniel J. McGinley, 88, a lifelong Philadelphia educator, union chief, and family man who started a dynasty of schoolteachers, principals, and superintendents, died Monday, Nov. 16, at his daughter’s home in East Falls from complications of cancer.
He began as a teacher in a pair of Philadelphia elementary schools, later becoming a school principal and leading the labor union that represents principals.
“He saw education as the great equalizer,” said his daughter Nancy McGinley, herself a former superintendent of public schools in Charleston, S.C. “It transformed my family.”
The son of Irish immigrants Bridget and Patrick, Mr. McGinley was born and raised in Olney. At a young age, he helped sustain his family by delivering newspapers and passing all of his pay to his mother, who worked cleaning Olney High School.
After graduating from Northeast Catholic High School, Mr. McGinley joined the Navy, where he became a “frogman,” trained in tactical underwater swimming as a member of a unit that was the precursor to the Navy SEALs. After he suffered a knee injury, Mr. McGinley left the service and eventually earned a bachelor’s in education from what is now La Salle University. He would later earn a graduate degree at Temple University.
He began his career in the mid-1950s, teaching at McKinley Elementary and Disston Elementary. By 1965, Mr. McGinley became a principal, working at the former Claghorn, Longstreth, and Lehigh schools in North and West Philadelphia.
Even in his earliest days, the union was important to Mr. McGinley. He was active in the teachers’ union and then in the organization that represented principals, the Pennsylvania Congress of School Administrators. Eventually, Mr. McGinley became its first full-time president.
Under his leadership, the principals’ association gained collective bargaining powers and eventually aligned with the Teamsters.
Prior to the establishment of what is now known as the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, principals “had a lot of responsibility for hundreds of thousands of lives, but no real power at the central office,” Nancy McGinley said.
She is one of the five McGinley children who followed their father into teaching. Three became district superintendents. Chris was superintendent in Cheltenham and Lower Merion and was until recently a Philadelphia school board member.
His children remember Mr. McGinley testifying before City Council, clashing sometimes with power brokers like Richardson Dilworth and Superintendent Constance Clayton. Mr. McGinley relished it.
He served as president until the early 1990s. His work, current union president Robin Cooper wrote in a 2019 commendation, still improves the lives of Philadelphia students and staff. Cooper hailed “Dan’s character, dedication and commitment” to education.
His work ethic was legendary. For years, Mr. McGinley worked a second job to support his eight children. He also bought houses that needed repair, fixed them up, mostly on his own, and sold them. He refused to hire movers when the family moved to a new house.
“He was a one-man moving company, Dan the Moving Man,” Nancy McGinley said. “Even in his 80s, he was a strong man — he’d look at a piece of furniture and say, ‘Help me pick up this bureau, Nance.’ He just had this can-do attitude.”
Mr. McGinley delighted in his large, close family; he and his wife had six biological children and adopted two more. In the days before Title IX, he showed up at every basketball game that Nancy McGinley, an athlete at Lincoln High and Temple University, played. He never missed the birth of a grandchild and he loved attending their games, too.
One grandson, Christian Blasy, followed Mr. McGinley into the Navy and in 2019 was named commander of the warship USS Charleston. Blasy used to joke, his Aunt Nancy said, that he was going to get a bracelet made: “What would Granddad do?”
Mr. McGinley was a swimmer and a basketball player, hale and energetic. His family gave him a bicycle for his 80th birthday.
“He was doing all the kinds of things that 80-year-olds should not be doing,” Nancy McGinley said.
He spent 66 years devoted to his wife, Jane Hartner McGinley, whom he met at a dance at the Germantown YMCA when she was 16. Even as their health declined and Mr. McGinley lost a leg to complications of sarcoma, he wanted to push his wife’s wheelchair.
“He would tell us how lucky he was to have gotten to live with the woman he loved for all those years,” Nancy McGinley said.
He is survived by his wife, daughter, and son, and six more children: Bonnie Blasy, David, Kerri McGinley-Kistler, Jayne, William, and Patrick; two brothers, the Rev. Bernard McGinley and the Rev. John McGinley; 23 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
Family and friends are invited to a viewing at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24, at St. Luke the Evangelist Church, 2316 Fairhill Ave., Glenside, where a Funeral Mass will follow at 12:30 p.m.