Francis J. "Jay" McKay, 76, an executive with Fox Chase Cancer Center for 30 years, died of heart failure Saturday, Dec. 17, at Abington Memorial Hospital.

Mr. McKay played a leading role in building Fox Chase from a community hospital into a comprehensive cancer-treatment center that sees more than 7,900 new patients a year, said Christine Wilson, who worked with him for 28 years.

He was a central figure in bringing together the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital in 1974 to form Fox Chase.

"His vision and determination were critical to transforming these distinct entities into a unified center of excellence," said R. Donald Leedy, another longtime colleague.

Born in Darby Borough, Mr. McKay graduated from St. James High School in Chester in 1953. He enlisted in the Navy that year and served on the destroyer Sigourney in Europe and the Mediterranean during the mid-1950s.

After his discharge in December 1956, Mr. McKay returned to his studies, earning a bachelor's degree from Villanova University in 1961.

His first job was as staff accountant with Lybrand, Ross Bros. & Montgomery, a management consulting firm then in Center City.

In 1963, he joined the Institute for Cancer Research in Fox Chase as business manager. He rose to become administrator and corporate secretary from 1970 to 1974.

In 1974, when the institute became part of Fox Chase Cancer Center, he was named corporate secretary and treasurer; he became vice president and administrator in 1978.

In 1981, he was promoted to executive vice president, a post he held until his retirement in 2004.

"He had a huge impact on everyone he worked with," Wilson said. "On Friday, he would walk around the facility saying, 'How's it going?' He came from the old school, for sure."

Throughout his career, he pushed hard on the national level for cancer funding and development of a national cancer program, Wilson said.

Mr. McKay helped create the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, which established guidelines for the care of cancer patients, Leedy said.

As an executive, Mr. McKay looked to recruit the best talent possible to Fox Chase, without regard to gender or race. He did this long before it became a societal norm, Leedy said.

"He recognized talent and rewarded it," he said.

Mr. McKay served as a Bucks County commissioner, as a Warminster Township supervisor, on the Warminster Fire Commission, as president of the Bucks County Jaycees, and as president of various homeowners associations.

He also served on the board of the Upper Dublin Fire Commission and with the Philadelphia Archdiocese's Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools program.

A devoted reader, Mr. McKay loved history, especially of the Civil War. In later years, he enjoyed travel.

Mr. McKay met his wife of 52 years, Carol A., at a parish dance. He thought she was someone else; she refused his invitation to dance. He asked her a second time, and they danced the night together.

The McKays made their home in Warminster, and later in Fort Washington.

Surviving, in addition to his wife, are daughters Donna M. Kasznel, Linda A., and Theresa A. Jensen; a son, Francis J. Jr.; and nine grandchildren.

Services were Thursday, Dec. 22, at Queen of Peace Roman Catholic Church, 820 North Hills Ave., Glenside. Interment was in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham.

Donations in his name may be made to Fox Chase Cancer Center, c/o Donald Green, Department of Institutional Advancement, 333 Cottman Ave., Philadelphia 19111.

Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com.