Todd McKee was known among loved ones as “Sunshine,” a nickname that friends said embodied his personality.
“He was just always happy, had such a great outlook,” Wayne Bowman, a friend of 28 years, recalled. “He always saw the better side of people. He was nonjudgmental, always listened and gave an ear.
McKee’s love of the beach also informed his moniker. He lived in Rehoboth Beach for more than a decade and had a beachside condo from which friends said he would often watch the sunset and sunrise.
McKee, 50, went out for a nighttime swim July 8 and lost his life during an accidental drowning, said partner Jeff Guaracino.
McKee’s body was found July 14 after an intensive search.
McKee’s mother, Lonna, wrote about her son’s love of the ocean in a social-media post this week.
“He loved the ocean and, while most of us were frightened to enter after dark, nor dared to swim out so far, Todd found it therapeutic, a sanctuary for both body and mind,” she wrote. “He explained on many occasions how the seawater washed away the pain in his bones and gave clarity to his thoughts.”
Guaracino, the CEO of Wawa Welcome America and PGN’s travel columnist, said he and McKee’s family were heartened by the outpouring of support during and after the search.
On July 13, loved ones held a moment of prayer on the beach at sunset. Guaracino said they fielded calls, emails and photos from supporters who held their own beachside vigils around the world — from Provincetown to Fort Lauderdale, Hawaii, South America, Israel and Germany.
“That really showed us the power of prayer,” Guaracino said. “Even in the greatest sorrow, we have seen so many blessings this week.”
Many of the people who have offered condolences shared stories of McKee’s compassion, Guaracino said.
“So many people I’ve talked to said they came out or felt more comfortable being a person of the LGBT community because of Todd,” he said. “Several people said, ‘I accepted myself because Todd helped me do that.’ People whose families didn’t accept them went to Todd and he warmly embraced them.”
“He was absolutely the kindest, sweetest person who always wanted to know how you were doing,” added Bruce Yelk, a friend for 25 years. “He would have a conversation and ask you what’s going on in your life and offer great advice. He wasn’t the type to say, ‘Yes,’ ‘No’ and move on. He really wanted to know what was going on; it was always more about you than him.”
McKee was a private person who preferred to be behind the scenes, Guaracino noted, adding that trait balanced well with Guaracino’s outward-facing work.
“We had a yin and yang in our relationship,” he said.
The couple, who would have celebrated their fifth anniversary in September, often traveled, relating to Guaracino’s work in the tourism industry.
He said it was a joy to watch McKee accomplish some “bucket-list” travel dreams.
“When we got together, one of the promises we made was we wanted to start traveling, and that became our thing. We went to Rio — it was his first time in South America — London and Paris, which he’d never been to. When I took him for his first first-class experience, he’s like, ‘Wow, this is nice’ and kept the amenity bag,” Guaracino laughed. “I was like, ‘It’s OK, we can get another one.’”
While he loved exploring, McKee also reveled in returning home and spending time with his family.
He was very close with his parents, siblings and their children, Guaracino said.
“They’re such a great, loving family,” he said. “They get together just about weekly for parties and celebrations.
“The LGBT issue never was an issue with them,” Guaracino added. “Some families may have a hard time with it, but his family defended him when things were against gay people and stood side by side with him.”
His father taught him electrical work, Guaracino added, noting McKee was very handy around the house.
McKee took great pride in decorating his home for holidays too.
“He wanted to make sure I had the red, white and blue stars plugged in for Fourth of July,” Guaracino recalled. “He loved Halloween and costumes. He had elaborate Christmas displays in the windows; Christmas was his most favorite time of year. He just loved to have fun.”
That was evident in his extensive T-shirt collection, many of which were emblazoned with humorous slogans, such as “Kiss me, I’m a ginger.”
“He was a ginger and he embraced his gingerness,” Guaracino laughed.
While McKee loved having fun, he also was gifted with a methodical, math-oriented mind, earning an accounting degree from Widener University. He owned and operated Delaware-based TMJ Financial, which specializes in loans for working-class residents.
“[TMJ] was his baby, and he did very well there,” Bowman noted. “His put his heart and soul into the company. He was very good with numbers.”
“Everyone wants to go for the 1-percenters, the wealthy folks, but a lot of his customers were regular working people,” Guaracino added. “He wanted to work with everyday moms and dads who needed a financial partner. During the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, his work became even more important; banks were shutting off credit cards and people were at such high risk but his financial smarts and his compassion made him really excel. He was a smart cookie and really had compassion for the people he served.”
McKee was also a nature lover, adding florals and palm trees to his home décor; was passionate about animals and very interested in spirituality.
McKee’s mother recalled his “gentle soul.”
“He loved animals since he was a young boy, and felt a connection in their vulnerability and dependence on others. Todd found friendship with people from all walks of life — empathetic to their struggles, their isolation and their need for acceptance — in a world he knew could be both beautiful and cruel. Those of us who loved him will always remember his kind, loving nature.”
In addition to Guaracino and Lonna McKee, he is also survived by father Bill; twin sister Melissa; brother Bill; and sisters Kristene, Kim and Mary; as well as siblings-in-law, 14 nieces and nephews and a wide circle of friends.
A memorial service will be held July 24 at Nolan Fidale Funeral Home, 5980 Chichester Ave. in Aston. Visitation will be from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., followed by a short Christian service.
Memorial donations can be sent to the Todd McKee Fund, c/o People’s Place, 1129 Airport Road, Milford, Del. 19963.