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Bill Morem: Forward this generous man’s pay back East

The concept of “paying it forward” is pretty simple: For every good deed you receive, you do good things for three other unrelated individuals. They, in turn, do good deeds for three others, and so on.

Cambria’s Catherine Ryan Hyde generally gets credit for the phrase after the publication of her novel by the same name and subsequent movie starring Kevin Spacey. The term was actually coined by Robert Heinlein in his 1951 sci-fibook “Between Planets,” but that’s beside the point.

What matters is there are superlative souls among us who practice paying it forward daily, helping people cope, expecting nothing in return, but racking up providential points just the same.

And that brings us to Bill McKee.

Since making Los Osos his home about 16 years ago, McKee has been paying it forward by delivering food for Meals on Wheels with routes in San Luis Obispo and Los Osos; regularly driving cancer patients to chemotherapy appointments; working with Court Appointed Special Advocates to help abused children; and serving dinners at the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter —all for a fistful of karma.

McKee’s life got off on what many Irish might think is the wrong foot; actually, the correct term is “left foot,” which means his father was a Belfast Protestant who married an Irish Catholic lass.

Such a potentially combustible blend must have taken a whole lotta love, patience and diplomacy to work. Mc-Kee believes those homegrown virtues have fueled his passion for helping others.

But his days of paying it forward on the Central Coast are over. By the time this piece sees print, McKee won’t be among us.

He has moved from his Los Osos home to Charleston, S.C. — and he wasn’t looking forward to the transition.

McKee’s first taste of the South, specifically South Carolina, was during his stint as a Marine stationed at Parris Island during the Korean War. He remembers a humid, buggy existence with way too many rebels running around.

Yet Charleston beckons, because that’s where he will probably live out his remaining years within the familial folds of his children and grandchildren. He’s 77, and years of hard work — first as an ironworker on New York’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and various high rises, then as a night school-educated lawyer —have dealt him fused lumbar disks and a transplanted heart.

“Yes,” he laughs, “I proved the critics wrong when I left my heart in San Francisco after my transplant in ’97. Lawyers truly can have hearts.”

And it doesn’t hurt to have smarts, too. After winning his third seven-figure case, he retired and lived a life Errol Flynn would have appreciated: trips up the Amazon; sailing his 30-foot boat to the Canary Islands, Nova Scotia, Bermuda, Africa; running the Zambezi River; hang gliding; and skydiving.

Looking at the sum of his life so far, McKee reckons, “I’d hate to sit on my deathbed and wonder what it would have been like to have jumped out of a plane. I figure I’ve got one time around, and so far the luck of the Irish has held.”

Perhaps through some payback by paying it forward.

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