Celebrating 75 Years of Serving Nevada’s Legal, Business, Government, and Civic Communities

Remembering and Honoring John J. McCune

It is with great sadness that we share the difficult news of the passing of John J. McCune, a longtime partner in McDonald Carano’s Reno office and a pillar of the Firm. Following is the eulogy delivered by McDonald Carano partner Pat Lundvall. 

About a year, maybe a year and one-half ago, the frequency of my lunches with Mr. McCune increased, and the topics of our conversations changed. Mr. McCune repeatedly stated that “I want someone to know me, to know me like I see myself.”  He began to relate stories of himself and achievements important to him. While he never told me directly, I always got the impression that he wanted these stories shared, and so I do so.

John Jennings McCune was born March 20, 1919 the son of a Methodist minister, whose father too was a Methodist minister.  John talked frequently of the expectations of his father and the rigors of being an only child, in particular a child with a zest for life and the experiences life has to offer. His mother was 41 years old and highly educated in foreign languages and the arts, at the time of his birth.  His eyes always misted when he spoke of his mother. The family frequently traveled to hike the mountains of Montana and the West.  Mr. McCune developed a great fondness for the West, its independence, and its tolerance.

Mr. McCune also talked fondly of the six-month sabbatical taken by his father from the ministry.  John was ten years old at the time.  The family traveled to Europe and spent a month in Paris and the balance of the time between Switzerland, Germany and England.  He was especially fond of Paris, where his mother took him to wander the halls of the Louvre and to sail boats at Givernchy Park.  With those types of experiences is it any wonder he had such class and style?

Mr. McCune talked of his college days at Lawrence College and at University of Michigan.  When he graduated in 1941 from the University of Michigan, he was Student Body President and President of his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon.  Each was a coveted honor at University of Michigan.  No one before him had ever achieved both honors in the same year.

It was during his years at U of M that he first learned of and began to develop his lifelong passion for jazz. He lay in bed one night beneath an open window and could hear the faint strains of music.  But it was music he’d never heard before.  He shimmied down a standpipe, in his pajamas, and stole across the campus toward the music.  He found a young black man working a night shift playing a phonograph on a wind-up player.  He asked what kind of music it was and the janitor replied “Why, that’s jazz, man!”

Needless to say, the two became fast friends.  John then began hopping the trains to Chicago to hang at the all night jazz clubs, only to return on Monday mornings in time to make class. This last summer Mr. McCune created a CD with a selection of his favorite jazz tunes for the members of the firm.  That CD will be played at the reception following this service.

When Mr. McCune graduated from college, the country was on the brink of WWII. Mr. McCune joined the Marines and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.  In filling out his induction papers he honestly revealed that he had allergies, without an understanding of the consequences for doing so.  After basic and officer training his unit was scheduled to ship out to Guadalcanal.  But he was informed that he was being discharged, because of his allergies.  They claimed he would not be able to survive in the locations served by the Marines.  Mr. McCune said he had never before felt such devastation.

 

Not long thereafter he tried to enlist as a seaman in the Navy.  The Navy learned of his educational background and Marine training, and asked to commission him as an Ensign.  But this time he faced another obstacle in his quest to serve his country.  As he stood naked on a scale, it was learned he was 4 pounds under qualifying weight.  He nearly cried at the thought of being rejected again.  But a Recruiting Chief pulled him off the scale, had him put on his skivvies, marched him to the kitchen and demanded that the cook bring out 2 gallons of milk and a dozen bananas.  John was ordered to consume the milk and bananas, and he did till he thought he would burst.  The next time he stepped on the scale he was ½ pound over.  He said he had never felt such joy to that point in his life.

In 1944 Mr. McCune and his unit were shipped out to Normandy, France.  He landed on Omaha Beach on the first day of the invasion of Normandy.  D-Day.  As the beachmaster for his unit he experienced the horrors and the stench of war that most of us can never imagine.

On the past year’s anniversary of D-Day, Mr. McCune happened to be in my office discussing other matters.  In my characteristic unthinking and crass manner, I stated something like how he must have had memories of that day.  I no more than spoke the words than I wished I could have snatched them back.  I watched a man leave my office to travel somewhere far, far away, even though he physically sat in my chair.  After one of the longest periods of my adult life, he returned to look at me with eyes brimming with tears, and said “Yes, I do have memories”.  He then got up and left the office for the balance of the day.

The next day he brought me a cassette tape of the Andrews Sisters singing “Rum and Coca-Cola”.  He explained how he, and hundreds of others, listened to that song over and over again, until it became a sort of anthem on a ship that sat just off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.  At that time the Allies were planning an invasion of Japan, similar to D-Day, to occur.  That invasion was only aborted after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Once back from the war Mr. McCune began law school at the University of Michigan.  He graduated in 1949 and took a position with the largest law firm in Michigan at the time.  He described for me one of his first assignments as a young lawyer: service of a subpoena for testimony on Jimmy Hoffa. He told he how he researched where Mr. Hoffa’s office was, its layout and what kind of car he drove.  He waited for a time when Mr. Hoffa’s car was in the parking lot.  He climbed up two flights of stairs to the only entrance into Mr. Hoffa’s office.  He announced himself and his purpose to a receptionist, who claimed that Mr. Hoffa wasn’t there.  Mr. McCune said he would wait.  

A couple of hours passed, and a secretary claiming to work for Mr. Hoffa suggested that he should leave and come back the next day.  He waited a couple of more hours.  It was nearing the end of the day.  Then, as he described it, two of the largest men he’d ever seen came out to talk to him.  First they asked him nicely to leave and then they threatened to throw him down the two flights of stairs.  They even marched him to the landing of the stairs, but he refused to leave.  When he didn’t, a little while later, Mr. Hoffa appeared and Mr. McCune served his subpoena.

I recall asking him if he was afraid he was going to be hurled down the stairs.  And he said: “Patsy, I looked in their eyes and I could see that they were just trying to scare me and I wasn’t going to be scared”.  I suppose it only fitting that the very last legal project he worked on dealt with labor unions and the violence that can erupt during a strike.  We were crafting a complaint.  He wanted to see the final draft before I filed it.   When I saw him on Friday, he told me he would call Monday, April 23, 2001, when I could fax the document to him for review.

From 1951-1956 Mr. McCune served two terms in the Michigan House of Representatives.  As a Republican he was asked to run for governor by his party.  One bill that he successfully advanced into law, continues to have effect nationwide today. He came home one evening to find his young son watching tv.  His son commented on the beer advertisements that dramatized the fun of alcohol consumption.  He took huge offense at that.

He drafted and sponsored a bill that forbade the consumption of such beverages in commercial advertising.  Can you imagine what opposition he faced from the brewing industry.  One of the largest brewers, Strohs Beer, was located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The entire brewing industry was concerned that the idea may extend to other states.  They began a concerted effort to defeat the “McCune Bill” as it became known.  He personally was bribed and later threatened, but persevered until it became law in 1955.  That started a landslide of similar legislation in other states and eventually the FCC incorporated that same restriction into its licensing requirements.

I’m going to let others far more qualified than I speak to his legal accomplishments here in Nevada, with one caveat. Toward the end, Mr. McCune expressed two great prides.  One professional and the other personal.

Professionally, he was hugely proud of the fact that he had orchestrated the seamless transition of the representation of his clients.  Clients were so very dear to him.  Not only were they his clients, but also his friends.  He was pleased that he had chosen and trained three individuals in particular that could carry on his traditions of scholarship, professionalism, fearless representation in the fashion of gentlemen.  He called them his “boys” – Tim Rowe, Matt Addison and Paul Georgeson.

As to his personal pride, his grandchildren and son brought him almost unspeakable joy.  Katy McCune, the 18 year old honors student, who he described as a complex child with a mind of her own.  He liked that.  He loved to read to you Katy, especially when you were small enough to fit in the crook of his arm.

Connor McCune, the 14 year old, who about 1-1/2 years ago took up the trumpet and now divides his time between school, a jazz band and golf.  They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Connor, you could not have honored or flattered your grandfather more. And Karrie McCune, the 7 year old extrovert, who loved to dance and perform for her grandpa.  He thought her theatrical bent was good training for a possible career as a trial attorney. 

To his son Christopher, a local CPA, and Chris’ wife Kathy, Mr. McCune was eternally grateful for the gifts of grandchildren you blessed him with.  Christopher, in particular, he marveled at your patience and, he was proud of what a wonderful father and fine scholar you are.

Mr. McCune had one great weakness.  She could bring him to his knees and nearly make him whimper.  He marveled at the softness of her skin and the comfort of her touch.  Last Sunday night, as she lay her cheek next to his, he closed his eyes saying “No matter where I travel, I will always recognize and remember you by the softness of your cheek”. Rita McCune has asked that I read the following poem written by William Randolph Hearst.

The Song of the River

THE SNOW MELTS ON THE MOUNTAIN
And the water runs down to the spring
And the spring in a turbulent fountain,
With a song of youth to sing,
Runs down to the riotous river,
And the river flows to the sea,
And the water again
Goes back in rain
To the hills where it used to be.

AND I WONDER IF LIFE’S DEEP MYSTERY
Isn’t much like the rain and the snow
Returning through all eternity
To the places it used to know.

FOR LIFE WAS BORN ON THE LOFTY HEIGHTS
And flows in a laughing stream,
To the river below
Whose onward flow
Ends in a peaceful dream

AND SO AT LAST,
When our life has passed
And the river has run its course,
It again goes back,
O’er the selfsame track,
To the mountain which was its source.

SO WHY PRIZE LIFE
Or why fear death,
Or dread what is to be?
The river ran
Its allotted span
Till it reached the silent sea.

THEN THE WATER HARKED BACK
To the mountain-top
To begin its course once more.
So we shall run
The course begun
Till we reach the silent shore.

 

THEN REVISIT EARTH
In a pure rebirth
From the heart of the virgin snow.
So don’t ask why
We live or die,
Or whither, or when we go,
Or wonder about the mysteries
That only God may know.

 

John J. McCune
Honor his presence with your life
Live it, as he did, to its fullest, without fear, and without apology.


About McDonald Carano

In 2024, McDonald Carano celebrates 75 years of serving Nevada’s legal, business, government, and civic communities. More than 60 lawyers and government relations professionals serve state, national, and international clients from our offices in Reno, Las Vegas, and Carson City. McDonald Carano provides legal services and government affairs and advocacy counsel to startups, corporations, trade associations, nonprofits, public entities, high-net-worth individuals, investors, and public-private partnerships throughout Nevada. We are proud to be your Nevada law firm since 1949.

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