Mike McKinney, 41, one of Madison's most popular television personalities, died Sunday in his home.
He had been suffering from colon cancer for several years, but no cause of death was given. McKinney joined the WMTV (Ch. 15) news team in 1997 and was an anchor and feature reporter for the station as long as his health permitted.
His death was announced to stunned silence Sunday at the beginning of a Madison Pride rally. McKinney had, over the years, raised thousands of dollars for AIDS research and assistance to victims of the disease through participation in an annual AIDS bicycle ride from the Twin Cities to Chicago.
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk wore a T-shirt from the 2003 AIDS ride during her speech to the rally as a tribute to McKinney.
"He was just a wonderful person," Falk said later. "He was always willing to help any community cause and, when he did, he put him-self into it totally. When he took his first AIDS ride he lost 40 pounds in the process."
The AIDS rides were, of course, only part of the role McKinney played in the community.
He was a creator of the Share Your Holidays drive that raises funds and food for Second Harvest, resulting in food for more than 2 million meals being provided within the space of four years and he volunteered as an announcer or master of ceremonies at any number of civic events.
McKinney's co-anchor at WMTV for several years was Pam Tauscher, who is now part of the WISC-TV (Ch. 3) news team.
"I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with him," Tauscher said. "There are some people in life you meet that have a certain type of friendship, so that you can finish each other's sentences. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to have had that with Mike. It was such a gift. Some people go through their whole careers without that experience. I will miss him."
McKinney participated joyfully in the city's cultural actives, serving, for example, as narrator of the Madison Symphony Orchestra's 2000 performance of "Peter and the Wolf" and he played a radio announcer in the Madison Repertory Theatre's production of "Little Shop of Horrors." McKinney was also master of ceremonies when the historic Stoughton Opera House reopened.
He served on the Mayor's Task Force for Human Relations.
In 2000, McKinney was one of 10 area people honored by the Wisconsin State Journal's "10 Who Made a Difference" feature. He said at the time that being a television anchor was "the only thing I ever wanted to do" and that he overcame a severe stutter in his childhood by memorizing and reciting the speeches of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in school and in church.
McKinney was a member of S.S. Morris African American Episcopal Church and, in 2000 was communications director for the national convention of the AME Church in Cincinnati.
"The first time I spoke in front of a group of people was from a pulpit in an AME church (as a child), so it was fitting that I used my God-given talent in the fields of communications for our general conference," he said then. "I grew up in the AME Church. I love the church. It is responsible for my personal growth and spiritual development."
WMTV general manager Bob Smith and news director Rob Crain issued a joint statement Sunday.
"Today marks not only a sad day for the NBC 15 family, but also for the Madison community as a whole," they said. "Mike touched the lives of so many people in our area through his tireless volunteer and community service work. Mike truly believed that to whom much is given, much is expected, and lived his life according to that motto every day.
"The brave manner in which he fought his illness over the last few years was an inspiration to those around him. While he leaves behind a community in mourning, he also leaves behind a community made much stronger and more compassionate because it had been touched by Mike McKinney."
Funeral arrangements are pending at the Cress Funeral Home, 3610 Speedway Road.