June 7, 2013 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay firefighter, first responder to Pentagon on 9/11, dies
Phillip Curtis McKee, obituary, gay news, Washington Blade

Phillip Curtis McKee III was a first responder to the first at the Pentagon on 9/11. (courtesy photo)

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 Sept. 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 wheel chair 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]after 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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

20 Comments
  • That he was gay does not matter: That he served and was on the front lines when the pentagon attack took place along with his service to his community stands him tall as a firefighterveteran and a rubber boot warrior. May he rest in peace. He stood mighty tall for all of us. Our thoughts from firefighterveteran shannon pennington on behalf of all of us at North American Firefighter Veteran Network.

    • His husband won't get survivor's benefits that the spouses of others who died from wounds suffered on 9/11 got. So, yes, despite your ignorance, it does matter.

    • His husband won't get survivor's benefits that the spouses of others who died from wounds suffered on 9/11 got. So, yes, despite your ignorance, it does matter.

    • It doesn't matter to YOU, Shannon. That's a big difference. The thing that doesn't matter is your ignorant opinion.

    • Terry: in the matter of doesn't matter….white red grey pink or otherwise he served. If you take offense to me saying what I said thats your right and your problem not mine. I worked alongside gay and straight for over 26 years IAFF. You…what have you done other than take cheap shots at people and hide as a multi talented what?

    • and about his husbands survivors benefits….keep working on the legislation…it will come about….but..not in time for this to heal the wounds….the couple does deserve to be treated equally and that in my insights did need correction….thanks for that ….

  • Micheale Anderson

    Rest with Peace Now & Thank You for Service.

  • The 2-party system charade has no respect for human life. Many 9/11 heroes were lied to about the air safety just like gulf oil spill responders. Terrible.

  • That he was gay obviously matters. As Joel Taylor pointed out, his surviving husband won’t get any of the federal benefits that he’s due because this country discriminates against gay people and that matters. That a gay youth can look to Phillip McKee’s heroism and sacrifice and think maybe they won’t kill themselves today matters. That some would prefer that gay people remain silent and allow their history to be erased matters. If you were intentionally trying to find something heinous and insulting to say about Phillip McKee, his widower, and the community of oppressed people that they are a part of, you would be hard-pressed to find something more despicable than “That he was gay does not matter”. Shame on anyone who would disgrace his memory and besmirch an untold number of their fellow Americans by publishing such a, at best, thoughtless and insensitive remark.

  • A hero. My sympathy to his husband and their son. BTW Shannon, it matters to me that he was gay!

  • Jennifer Butler

    Phillip taught me the art of stained glass. He was a gracious and wonderful teacher. He will be missed.

  • Yaaaaa…..one less animal !

  • this is my cousin..please keep remarks respectful….

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