Obituary: Gratitude for cancer care led to U bequest

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2011 - 8:21 PM

School social worker Jeanne McGahee, 85, started a research fund after care that she said extended her life.

In the years after her diagnosis and treatment for ovarian cancer in 2005, social worker Jeanne McGahee said she wanted other women to get the same chance she had at "extra years of life."

So in 2007, she established the Jeanne McGahee Fund for Ovarian Cancer Research and gave the first gifts of what will be a $400,000 bequest to the University of Minnesota's School of Medicine and the work of her gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Peter Argenta.

"Jeanne always took charge of her life. That was true with her setting up the fund," said Sandra Irwin, a longtime friend. "And it certainly was true in how she died."

McGahee, 85, of Edina, died Sept. 21 in hospice care after her cancer returned and spread.

"You always knew where you stood with Jeanne, whether you were her hairdresser or her doctor," Irwin said. "I think that's why she had so many friends."

An inveterate traveler, gardener and bridge player, McGahee was born in Augusta, Ga., on Dec. 7, 1925. After graduating from college, she joined the YWCA in 1947 and spent 17 years as a program director in Tennessee, Texas and Iowa.

In 1966 she received a master's degree in social work from the University of Denver and moved to Minnesota. For 22 years she worked as a social worker in Minneapolis elementary schools, where she met Irwin, a speech pathologist.

"She was a wonderful mentor for new teachers, helping them understand the problems their students were going through and how to be effective with them," Irwin said. "Jeanne always seemed to understand ... what they needed -- both the kids and the teachers."

McGahee visited all 50 states and began her world travels in 1953, when she and a social worker from Des Moines, Louisa Dinks, boarded a freighter bound for Africa. Later they went by ship down the coast of South America, and during the summer of 1969 traveled around the world by freighters.

"They took their crocheting and their sewing machines with them and just settled in for sightseeing, learning about people and places, and sewing and crocheting," Irwin said. "Life was an adventure for Jeanne. She relished everything."

McGahee's advanced ovarian cancer was diagnosed in 2005 and she "set out to beat it," Irwin said. McGahee set up the cancer fund after Dinks died and left her a bequest.

"Jeanne was a determined woman, an optimist who always expected the best," Irwin said. "In her final days -- after we all had our instructions about our jobs after she was gone -- she said, 'Sandy, everything is going just as I had planned.' She saw her whole life as a blessing."

McGahee is survived by a brother, M.M. McGahee of Hilton Head Island, S.C., and a niece and nephew. She donated her body to the University Anatomy Bequest Program. Burial will be later in Dearing, Ga. A memorial service will be held in October.

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253

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