By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
He was a railroad engineer, a private man who couldn’t turn down a game of poker or resist a good joke, and a man who deeply cared about his family.
Maurice McGill of Clovis died at the Retirement Ranch Dec. 1. He was 72.
Born in 1932, McGill joined the Army and later became an engineer for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad. He didn’t live life in the public eye, family member said, but he was a prominent figure in the life of his friends and family.
“He was a very entertaining, upbeat person,” said his sister-in-law, Phyllis Lewis.
All the same, his humor demanded a certain getting-used-to, she admitted, like the time he walked into a pizza joint and demanded 60 pieces of fried chicken. Or when he jumped on a train in Belen and rode home to Clovis after poker players accused him of cheating in a card game.
“He delighted all ages with his wit,” she said.
Once, a family member went to the supermarket and purchased a hen, Lewis said. When she unwrapped the chicken, it was foully spoiled, so she sent Maurice off to the market to fix the situation.
“He goes down to the Piggly Wiggly, and he is ranting and raving about this spoiled chicken, and they are very apologetic, and they agree to give him the money back,” Lewis said.
McGill came back and told family members how his persistent complaints had secured another chicken from Piggly Wiggly, at which point he was told, “Mack, that’s great, but I got it at Safeway!”
There were many stories like that, Lewis said, stories that make her laugh even now.
One of his railroader friends, Joe Ward, recalls his days with McGill at the railroad company. When Ward joined the company in 1972, McGill started training him on how to be an engineer.
“When I was a student and maybe did something dumb, he didn’t jump on me,” Ward said. “He was very patient and explained things and was a good engineer.”
Ward recalled one trip the two men took together on the south end — the stretch of rails from Clovis to Carlsbad — when a blizzard hit their train a short distance from the southernmost point, the end of the line.
The snow was so thick, Ward recalled, that whoever was driving the train had to strain their eyes to see through it so as not to run headlong into an oncoming train. So the two men traded the duty off during the 14-hour trip, drawing closer and finding a deeper respect for each other, he said.
“We didn’t have any problems other than the weather and trying to keep the train together,” Ward said. “He was always worried about breaking (the train) in two.”
McGill developed emphysema about 20 years ago, Lewis said. In the following years he had a major heart attack and related health problems. He had been in the nursing home for about five years when he died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease earlier this month.
But her sister-in-law said she was happy to be there to take care of him near the end.
“He’s a good person, he just deserved to have someone take care of him,” Lewis said. “We all need someone at some point in our life, and I just felt like I could be there to help him.”