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The reluctant politician


Friends, family remember former alderman Larry Magee



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LARRY AND VERN MAGEE at the Geneva Lake Museum in December 2010 standing near his Ford Model-A. Larry Magee died last Tuesday. He was 78.

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April 16, 2013 | 05:02 PM
Larry Magee wrote a letter to the editor about a month ago.

It would prove to be his last public commentary.

Magee, 78, a former alderman and lifelong Lake Geneva resident, died last Tuesday, April 9, after a three-month battle with cancer.

That last letter, backing a candidate for city council, sounded like the man people knew.

Magee uplifted one candidate without degrading the other. He was respectful but still got his point across.

Magee was on the city council himself from 1994 to 1998 and from 2002 to 2008.

"He was the perfect politician because he was a reluctant politician," said his son Brian during an interview at his father's home Monday. "He didn't go into it because that's what he wanted to do. He went into it because it needed to be done."

How did Magee get started in local politics?

"He was unsatisfied with his representation," Brian said. "And he understood that if that's the way you think about it and you think about it strongly then you need to pick up the torch."

Magee was a strong advocate and tireless worker for the Geneva Lake Museum.

Museum Director Karen Jo Walsh remembers him this way: "This man was all heart — tall, lean, with a friendly smile."

Another museum friend, Marsha Engquist, called him "a friend and sidekick."

"His smile and hugs are missed daily," she said.

"Larry was Larry," recalled Lake Geneva City Administrator Dennis Jordan. "He was very direct and I think he had good, solid thought processes and he was just a really nice person to work with. He just studied everything and made his decision based on what he saw. He was great with staff and someone you would like to work for."

Magee first showed signs of illness during a trip in January.

"He wasn't feeling good," his wife Vern recalled. "When we got home, he was having trouble breathing."

At first, doctors diagnosed it as pneumonia.

"I thought, well that's good," Vern said. "At least we can get over that … maybe."

Then doctors thought it might be turberculosis.

Finally, they discovered cancer.

"They said it was treatable but not curable," Vern said. "Which I thought was a better than saying it was terminal."

A series of medical disasters followed.

Then, on Sunday, April 7, Vern was told her husband wouldn't live through the night.

"But his heart was so strong, he didn't go until Tuesday night," Vern said.

Even then he rallied for awhile. "It was like he wasn't giving up," she said.

Vern and Larry met in high school when he was a senior and she was a sophomore. On their first date, they went tobogganing at the former Lake Lawn Lodge.

Later, Larry went into the service and Vern to college, but that didn't stop them from reuniting.

"I guess we decided it was a good thing," Vern said.

They would have celebrated 54 years of marriage this June. Her husband had his hobbies, Vern recalled.

"He loved clocks," she said. "He'd get them all going and it would be like a concert and I couldn't sleep."

He loved his motorcycle, too, and it had a sidecar for Vern. "He went hunting for many years also," Vern said, "but we always laughed at him because he really didn't want to kill the deer."

So what words best described her husband, Vern was asked.

Quiet.

Gentle.

A good listener.

"Understanding," Brian added.

"He seemed to just find the good in people," Vern said.

One of his best friends was Larry Severson of Burlington.

They met for coffee just about every Tuesday and Thursday for 15 years.

"We thought the same way about politics," Severson said. "We just kind of clicked."

Larry's best quality?

"He was always there," Severson said. "He'd do anything for anyone at any time."

Magee also showed up at the Lake Geneva McDonald's for coffee with a group that meets there on a daily basis.

Vern joined them last Saturday and recalled someone saying: "Shouldn't Larry be walking in the door?"

Editor's note:

Former Lake Geneva alderman Larry Magee was remembered fondly at the Regional News. The following was written by former editor Lisa Seiser.

As a City Council member, Larry was quiet, unassuming and humble. Because of that, many people in Lake Geneva didn't always realize how thoughtful, caring and intelligent he was. He wasn't on the council for show or for power. He did it because he loved Lake Geneva and always wanted what was best for the city. I believe he made every decision with his love of Lake Geneva in mind.

As a Lake Geneva resident, I will always remember Larry stopping in the Regional News office on Wednesday mornings to pick up a paper. Almost always with a smile, he would stop in the editorial office and chat about what was going on. It was virtually impossible for the day not to be brighter after a visit from Larry.

He along with his wife, Vern, did so much for the community of Lake Geneva, a lot that many didn't see or notice.

Most of the time, Larry did it behind the scenes. He spent countless hours at the museum helping out in any way he could with no fanfare and little recognition. He was just fine being in the background.

He and I talked about a lot of things — motorcycles, vacations and, of course, the news of the week in Lake Geneva. I remember him mentioning his property on the Mississippi River and the trips to visit friends and family. They were great discussions.

Lake Geneva truly has lost one of its most special and giving people. He will be missed. I will miss him.
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