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Stanford Report, May 15, 2002

When it's show time, McKee's there day and night

The work of Event and Labor Services is a lot like show business, and for audiovisual supervisor Ray McKee, the curtain goes up dozens of times a day.

It's ultimately McKee's responsibility to see that presentations flash on screen at the right moment during classes and that the words of visiting speakers like Bill Gates and the Rev. Jesse Jackson can be heard in the back row. And he oversees the crews that make sure the sound works during what's arguably the most important time Stanford students will hear their names -- when they receive diplomas at more than 50 individual ceremonies after the main Commencement program.

As they perform work critical to the success of hundreds of campus events, he and his crew of nine are nearly invisible most of the time. That's fine with the soft-spoken McKee. "I like being in the background, orchestrating things," he said.

Equipment is part of the equation in the 4,000 to 5,000 different jobs that the audiovisual side of the department completes each year, said Larry Davidson, manager of Event and Labor Services. But McKee is successful because he emphasizes people, not technology, Davidson said. "Ray gives attention to people who need help with their event beyond what can be expected." And through McKee's example, his entire staff has the same dedication. "I never worry about whether things will be done," Davidson added.

McKee, who was born in Mississippi, moved to the Bay Area in the late 1960s and began working in the Grounds department in 1969. After two years, he became an audiovisual technician. Though he hadn't planned to stay on the West Coast, he was drawn by the climate and the variety of people and perspectives he encountered on his new job, McKee said.

As a technician, he might have spent one hour in a psychology class taught by Philip Zimbardo, showing slides of his 1971 prison experiment, and the next hour might find him setting up sound for the Doobie Brothers. McKee has met world leaders including Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela. "In this department, there's no typical day," he said.

Over the years "I've worked with Ray on an almost unimaginable set of circumstances," recalled President Emeritus Donald Kennedy. "Even on the tenser and more stressful of these occasions, he was a wonderful source of encouragement. Not only did one know that the 'tech' wouldn't fail, there was a quick shot of good cheer."

Through the years, McKee has shown himself to be utterly dependable, said Bruce Krempetz, director of operations for Stanford Events. "He's one of those people you can contact and he'll do whatever it takes to get something done -- and get it done right."

McKee's dedication was never more in evidence than during the 1991 Centennial Celebration, when he was solely responsible for the audiovisual needs generated by 200 special classes, plus multiple panels and forums, wrote Lois Wagner, executive director of Stanford Events, when nominating McKee for the award. McKee handled it all while still managing the everyday audiovisual needs of academic classes, Wagner said. "Ray is one of those people who you call at 6 a.m. and he's there. You call him at 10 p.m. -- and he's still there," she said.

As supervisor, one of McKee's priorities is to make sure that his employees can balance their work and personal lives, he said. Event and Labor Services operates from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week; in McKee's early days, a small group of employees was stretched to cover all those hours themselves, he said. "That can be a strain on relationships."

It's typical of McKee, who works 14-hour days himself, to fill in for employees with family emergencies or other obligations, said Guy Bailey, audiovisual shop foreman. McKee once stopped by on his day off to check his messages, and when he saw that the crew was rushing to make last-minute deliveries for a conference, he jumped in to help without hesitation, Bailey said.

"I come from the old school," McKee said. "If you're going to do something, do it the best you can."