Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Irish 'Jewboy' was a hero

The man whose nickname stirred controversy was in the papers once before

It turns out Jewboy was a hero.

I told how an Irishman, John "Jewboy" McGee, got that nickname in Friday's paper.

Focusing on the nickname made it impossible for me to share another story about the man whose father nicknamed him Jewboy, for reasons I explained. From this point on, I will call him McGee.

A laborer for the Recreation Department for 25 years, McGee had just finished mowing the grass at the Markward Playground near the Schuylkill in July 1994, according to a 1995 Daily News story by Dave Davies.

A man ran up to McGee screaming that his friend had just fallen into the Schuylkill.

McGee, 57, had been a lifeguard in his youth. He kicked off his shoes, tore off his shirt and dived into the water.

"He was about 15 feet out," Davies quoted McGee as saying, "slapping the water like he was going under."

McGee grabbed him and hauled him to the riverbank.

Davies' story appeared about seven months later because after the heroic rescue, McGee became desperately ill, spent two weeks on a respirator and almost died.

It was surmised he had become infected by bacteria in the water.

Davies did the story because the city seemed to be denying McGee's workman's compensation claim during his long, painful recovery.

Once the press got on the story, the city's story changed. The city wasn't denying the coverage, Davies was told, it was examining it.

In any event, McGee, the hero, got the coverage.

Here's something that Davies didn't know, something I learned via an email from a former colleague of McGee's. I confirmed the basic facts with the family.

Before McGee went to Recreation, he was a Housing Authority cop for a decade.

"Our unit not only dispatched officers to problems ranging from murders in the projects to major drug activity that the city would not handle and left to fester for the Housing Police," Jason Brando, a police dispatcher at the time, wrote me.

"McGee was a warrior and went into these murder zones every day, knowing that every day he had to dodge bullets and garbage from the people he was there to serve," Brando said.

He added that McGee "worked every day with enthusiasm and dedication." He was not known as "Jewboy." That unfortunate nickname only existed among the old heads of his childhood Schuylkill neighborhood.