Mike McCone, executive director of the California Historical Society during crucial years that were to determine its survival and later board chair at Heyday Books in Berkeley, died May 9 after a sudden onset of leukemia.
McCone’s death was confirmed by his companion of 20 years, Charlene Harvey. Mike was 83 and had been living in an assisted living facility in San Francisco.
Among the institutions for which he worked during his nonprofit management career, besides the historical society, were the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Grace Cathedral.
Mike McCone was one of those famous Mad Men of the early Peace Corps days, but unlike the Washington types, Mike cut his teeth in the agency overseas. He worked on the staff as a deputy in Sierra Leone, and then director in Malawi, Malaysia, Sarawak and back in Washington. He was with the Peace Corps from 1961 to 1967.
McCone graduated from Yale where he spent his summers as a choker setter on high load logging operations for the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company in Oregon. After college, he served in the Navy as a communications officer on a destroyer. In 1961, he left his job in San Francisco as a stevedore superintendent to join the Peace Corps. He had the kind of background, on paper, said Coates Redmon in her book, Come As You Are, “that made Shriver all shivery—the kind of chic-tough credentials that found him hitting the ‘buzz bomb’ button and barking, “Find this guy! Find McCone!”
McCone first posting was as deputy director in Sierra Leone, to which he relocated with his wife, Caroline (Nini) Charles, and their two infant boys, Andy and Mike. A third son, Matt, was born overseas. The Peace Corps Director in Sierra Leone at the time was Donovan McClure, who had taken over from the legendary Walter Carrington. McClure describes the twenty-eight-year-old deputy as “a tall, lanky guy with sandy hair, pale blue eyes, high-pitched laughter, a far-out sense of humor, an enormous capacity for work, and a fierce loyalty to the Peace Corps.”
From Sierra Leone McCone moved onto Malawi, then Borneo, for his final three years with the agency.
It was in Malawi, where he was Director that he confronted the American Ambassador in defense of his Volunteer, Paul Theroux, and hereby hangs a tale and tells us what kind of director and American Mike McCone really was.
(To be continued)