On September 27, 2020, in Portland, Oregon, Joe Ross McCray died after a long struggle with congestive heart failure. He succeeded in many things in life but could not fulfill his wish to survive until he could vote in the 2020 election.
He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Delores (DeeDee) and dog 4, daughter Kelly McCray, son Tom McCray (spouse Robin), grandchildren Kathryn Bradley (spouse Denis), Joe Calentino (dog Gore), Ryan, and Sean McCray, great-grandchildren Vivian and Charlotte. Sister Carol Flynn (spouse Martin). He was preceded in death by his mother Vivian Tingey and brother Pat McCray. A few years ago, he found half-sisters, Joan Jensen, Janice Hill, and Judith Schwartz.
Joe was born in Denver and grew up in Portland. He graduated from Franklin High School in 1959, Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA, in 1964, and University of San Francisco Law School in 1969. Throughout his life, Joe made and kept dear friends. He was a high school and college athlete, lifelong learner, workers’ advocate, political activist, avid hunter and golfer, and devoted to his family.
After graduating from college, Joe began his career with the National Labor Relations Board in San Francisco, and soon continued his commitment to labor rights as Assistant to the President of the International Longshore Workers Union, Harry Bridges. During this time, he began his political and community activism. As he became more involved in community activism, it became clear that the best way for him to continue his work would be to become an attorney. He continued working for the ILWU and attended night classes at the University of San Francisco School of Law. Upon passing the bar in 1971, he opened up his practice and began representing the San Francisco Bay Area’s working and underserved people. He was an aggressive, innovative, and fearless trial lawyer for more than 30 years. When he took on a cause, he would never give up without seeing it through to the very end. He developed a national reputation as a trial attorney for successfully representing claimants who suffered injuries from automobiles manufactured by General Motors. He also represented claimants against criminal enterprises in a very public case in Pierce County, WA.
Joe was a believer in doing what he could in the face of problems in the world and community. In his litigation against General Motors, he joined with other trial attorneys nationwide to found the Attorney’s Information Exchange Group, a national organization of plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers that collaborated and joined resources to hold large corporations accountable for defective products.
He was very proud of his Irish heritage. He believed that American support could help work with Ireland through their infamous troubles. He was a founding member of the Irish Forum of San Francisco, which advocated for dialogue and justice in Ireland. He worked extensively in Ireland to help find a peaceful resolution to the sectarian conflict. Joe and the Irish Forum were impactful enough to have the attention of Irish leaders in the North and South, including Nobel Laureate John Hume and President Mary Robinson (Ireland President 1990 to 1997), who he hosted for dinner at his home in San Francisco.
Joe and DeeDee left San Francisco in 2002 and returned to rural Sauvies Island near Portland, where it had all began 40 plus years earlier. They reunited with high school and college friends, continued worldwide travel, adopting his beloved Labradors Two and Three (AKA Mac 2 and Mac 3), hunting and fishing. The McCray family gathered during summers and holidays to enjoy each other and Sauvie Island’s beautiful surroundings.
Joe also got to work to satiate his storyteller instincts and began writing novels based loosely on his experiences and characters came to know throughout his career in San Francisco. The first novel, “Murder at the Thorntree Hotel,” was self-published in 2006, and the last “On a Clear Day” was still being read and edited by his dear friends at the time of his death. In all, he completed four novels, two nearly complete, and numerous short stories. At the time of his death, he had begun working with an agent to help get his books published. The family will continue that effort.
As those who knew him well would expect, he left explicit wishes for how we would mark his passing, including a live jazz band, an open bar with free-flowing Black Bush Irish Whiskey.The family is hoping that COVID-19 will pass soon so that we can fulfill his wishes.Until then, the family will be hosting a virtual memorial on Saturday, December 12, 2020, at 2 pm.
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