In 1937, as a newly minted college graduate with a journalism degree, Ernest Magee was one of 36 men chosen to recreate the trek of pioneers from Massachusetts into the Northwest Territory 150 years earlier. For about a year, they retraced the steps of the first white settlers of Marietta, Ohio, wearing buckskin clothing, making their own boats and leading a caravan of oxen, horses and covered wagons.
Magee of Winter Park died Monday at age 98. He continued to participate in historical events and to wear the buckskin outfit into his 90s, said his middle daughter, Lynn Frazier. Magee fell in December and never fully recovered, she said.
After the trek, Magee enlisted and quickly picked up the nickname "Fibber," after one of the title characters in "Fibber McGee and Molly," a comedic radio show that ran from 1935 to 1959. His wife, Gertrude, whom he met at a USO dance and married in 1942, also became "Molly" for life.
In addition to doing public-relations work for the Army Air Corps, Magee served as a pilot instructor during World War II, Frazier said. He stayed on in the Air Force for a career that included flying in the Berlin Airlift, which brought supplies to Berliners during the 1948 blockade, and working in public relations for Orlando Air Force Base.
After retirement, he directed the flying department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute in Daytona Beach and later worked in public relations for Kennedy Space Center, she said.
Magee was born in Niagara Falls, N.Y., a few month after his parents left County Down in Northern Ireland. They settled in Rhode Island, where he graduated from high school and attended the University of Rhode Island.
In 1937, fresh from college with a degree in journalism, Magee saw an ad seeking men to volunteer for the Northwest Territory caravan. With jobs scarce during the Great Depression, Magee jumped at the chance. The trip, which was based on the diaries of the pioneers, included triumphal stops in towns from Ipswich, Mass., to Marietta, Ohio. The men participated in plays and re-enactments most nights, Frazier said.
Magee also had a knack for connecting with people.
"All of our friends were infatuated with both of our parents," daughter Rosemary Magee said. "He was loving and attuned to kids."
Magee also was known for pranks such as climbing doors and hanging upside down from his toes, Frazier said. He convinced his granddaughter Rebecca that she could fly as a young girl by putting leaves on her and letting her jump off a tree stump.
Magee is survived by his wife of 70 years, as well as daughters Maureen Magee of Miami, Lynn Frazier of Orlando and Rosemary Magee of Decatur, Ga.; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Carey Hand Cox-Parker Funeral Home, Winter Park, is handling arrangements.
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