The University Record, April 15, 1998

Shirley McFee sails through her term as Regent


By Rebecca A. Doyle

Sometime this summer, somewhere off the coast of Annapolis in Chesapeake Bay, you may see a 49-foot-long sailboat named Boomer.

Her captain and first mate are Bob and Shirley McFee, taking a well-earned break from the business of running a business and, for Shirley, a break from being responsible for major decisions as a Regent of the University.

A Regent of the University for the past seven and one-half years, McFee has a great love of sailing and can combine that with a prolonged visit to family members in the Annapolis area. While her two sons and four grandchildren live in Michigan, her daughter Carole, son-in-law Juan and two grandchildren live near Annapolis, and McFee hopes to spend most of the summer on the boat.

"We used to keep it on Lake Michigan, but last year we spent all summer on it," McFee says. "This summer, we'll keep it on the East Coast."

Growing up in Detroit, she and her future husband went to the same high school, but didn't even date until the day of her last exam at the U-M.

"We knew each other, but we weren't in a dating relationship until we left school," she says. McFee graduated in 1951 and was married to Bob in April 1952. Always interested in politics, she returned to school for a master's degree in political science after having three children, then found that there were more political science instructors than jobs for them and turned to other things.

"When I started out working in the world, I joined lots of women's organizations and pursued political activities through women's groups," McFee says. "I quickly found that women's groups open doors, and to be effective you need to step through them to be part of the main stream." Following her own advice, she was elected Calhoun County commissioner in 1981 and held the seat through 1984. She served as Battle Creek city commissioner in 1985-91 and mayor of Battle Creek in 1990-91.

When Gov. John Engler put together his slate in 1990, he asked McFee to run for Regent at the University, and she was delighted. "I had always thought it would be a wonderful thing to do, but I never had pursued it."

In the business world she is export manager of GHS Corp., one of the largest manufacturers of strings for fretted instruments, working full time in the Battle Creek office. Music trade shows take her to California and Nashville, and to Europe once a year. "The interesting thing about this business is that you get to meet people who excel in this field, an opportunity to brush shoulders with musicians. It's a fun business," Mcfee notes.

Not only did she and her husband graduate from the U-M, but all three of her children are alumni and her father received his degree in civil engineering in 1922. Her son-in-law came to the U-M for his master's degree in business administration.

"I would not contemplate running for the board of any other institution," McFee says. She has decided, however, not to seek another term.

"Being a Regent is an extraordinary experience. I have made the sweet-and-sour decision not to repeat that experience, as much as I regret the thought of not being involved anymore," McFee says. "But it is a truly wonderful experience to be able to pass along to somebody, and eight years is really a long term. I'd like to have more free time than I have. I want to spend extensive time on our sailboat."

Fulfilling her commitment as Regent has taken a considerable amount of time, but has also had its pure rewards. McFee says she tries to read nearly everything that comes to her in the mail from the U-M--a process she says she squeezes into her regular schedule--in addition to time spent at regular meetings and auxiliary meetings, like those the Regents held during the presidential search. On the other side are the "extraordinary experiences of having close contact with all the things that go on at the University--an opportunity to meet with some of the most talented and successful alumni and visit with speakers like Ken Burns and Sandra Day O'Connor."

"My own personal knowledge has been expanded by the opportunity to be part of, even as a sideline part, a lot of the things that go on here," she says.

"Throughout the nearly eight years I have been here, I have tried to do whatever seemed necessary at the time to make sure that the University was able to continue its primary activities--development and dissemination of knowledge to the students.

"I would like to have my time as Regent remembered for providing leadership to guide us through any kind of circumstance and still keep our primary focus on the educational purpose of the University," McFee says.