Patrick McKenna had a wealth of talents.
His legal mind and work ethic impressed senior attorneys even when he was fresh out of law school. The American Cancer Society liked him so much that after representing the organization in a lawsuit that resulted in an historic settlement against tobacco companies, he hired him as Senior Vice President and General Counsel. The theater audience reacted to his melodious voice and dashing appearance. After retiring from the law, he was an executive coach and worked with executives from major international companies such as Credit-Suisse, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase.
And in the last months of his life, after being robbed of his motor skills by Lou Gehrig’s illness or ALS, McKenna used a handicapped communication system that tracks eye movements to write a book for his children. The title “A few things before I go” brings together philosophy, career advice and sermons.
McKenna, who grew up, was educated and lived and worked in the capital area for much of his life. He died on November 15th, about two weeks after his 58th birthday. He was at his Denver home and died of complications related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative neuromuscular disease. It was about a month before the third anniversary of his diagnosis.
“He was one of the nicest, nicest, and most pleasant people, and an excellent attorney, which can be a hard combination to find,” said Kristine A. Lanchantin, a partner in the Albany law firm Girvin & Ferlazzo, where McKenna worked from 1994 through 2000.
“He was always ready to interfere and you could trust him with anything you gave him,” said Lanchantin.
Benita Zahn, the veteran WNYT reporter and presenter, starred in community theaters with McKenna from 1985 when they were part of the six-person cast on a show called Comedy Tonight. It was the first production in the Live at the Lakehouse series, which appeared in the amphitheater in Washington Park in Albany and evolved into the Park Playhouse, now known as the Playhouse Stage Company.
“He was a man of class,” said Zahn, who continued to perform with McKenna over the years, including a 2013 production of Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes” at Theater Voice in Albany. “He was smart, kind, quick, and daring – the kind of person you’re so happy to cross paths with,” said Zahn.
Tony Pallone, President of the Board of Directors of Theater Voices, said, “He was that incredibly handsome man who could only fill a room with his presence, and he had a remarkable voice.” Pallone asked McKenna if he had ever given singing lessons.
“He said no,” said Pallone with a laugh, “but he said it in that wonderful voice.”
McKenna’s singing talents were shown in a 2002 Russell Sage College production of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, a stage adaptation of Dylan Thomas’s poem of the same name.
“The language in it is so beautiful and he got it right,” said Michael Musial, a wise music professor who ran the show.
Musial also said, “As an actor, he was fearless. He would try almost anything and he was very creative. “
Born November 2, 1962 in Lawrence, Kan., McKenna, moved to Schenectady at a young age with his parents, John J. McKenna and Meritta Eileen (Webster) McKenna.
“Patrick had a mainly idyllic childhood,” says his obituary, which continues. “He was probably one of the last kids to play cowboys and Indians, and he always chose to be Indians, which shows an affinity for outsiders and an aversion to bullies.” that would echo all his life. “
After graduating from the former Linton High School in Schenectady and Siena College in Loudonville, McKenna worked at the RPI in Troy and helped develop the first boarding school for the homeless with AIDS. The effort resulted in a federal lawsuit that inspired him to attend Albany Law School and, according to his obituary, co-founded the country’s first AIDS legal clinic.
While studying law, he married Sally O’Connor. Their children Anne Elizabeth and John Harlan were born in 1998 and 2000, respectively. His son was named after US Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, the sole dissident in the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson case who upheld the constitutionality of segregation for public institutions. The marriage ended in divorce.
After a dozen years with the American Cancer Society, McKenna moved to executive coaching, most recently at Templar Advisors, a London-based financial services consultancy. In this role he met Elisabeth “Libby” Trissel, a senior project manager at AT&T who lived in Denver. The meeting took place in early 2018, shortly after his ALS diagnosis.
One month after their meeting, Patrick Libby suggested the most elaborate and romantic possible – and surprised her with a Brooklyn Bridge serenade of John Legends’ All of Me, accompanied by musicians and singers from the Harlem Gospel Choir to his obituary. They married on September 1, 2018.
After being disabled in mid-2018, McKenna and Trissel traveled widely, witnessed arguments from the Supreme Court, and went to various cities to watch his beloved St. Louis Cardinals’ ball games. Her last trip was to St. Louis for the final three games of the 2019 National League Championship Series. The Cardinals won. In his obituary it says: “Although Patrick could not move his limbs by then, his thousand watt smile illuminated the ballpark that day.”
McKenna is survived by his wife, children, mother, brothers Brian and Andrew, and a larger family. His father died in 2010; his sister Carol in 2018.