A Winning Team Abc's Jim Mckay And Wife Margaret

February 02, 1992|By MARY COREY

WHEN JIM MCKAY INTRO- duces millions to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, he is not speaking to a wide world. He's addressing an audience of one: his wife, Margaret McManus.

That's the formula the ABC sportscaster has followed for the past 30 years. And judging from his reputation -- and the couple's Emmy-filled den -- it has worked.

"When we first went to New York, I met Arthur Godfrey," he recalls. "He said, 'The only advice I could give you about TV is . . . when somebody's watching you at home there may be 5 million people, but they're not watching like a crowd. They're watching one on one. At the most, I never talk to more than one person.'

"I remembered that and asked myself, 'Who would that one person be?' I decided it would be Margaret."

It may come as a surprise to viewers, but in person Mr. McKay (whose real surname is McManus) is a shy, quiet man, more comfortable talking about raising horses on the couple's 40-acre Monkton farm than his TV successes.

"Privately Margaret claims that I'm really Mr. Magoo. I've walked through this world of television with safes falling all around me, and thank God I didn't even know they were there," he says.

She laughs and nods her head. Ironically, Ms. McManus is what (( her husband appears to be on TV: poised, confident and gregarious. If he speaks too quickly or overdramatizes a story, she's the one who gently tells him.

More often, however, she plays the part of fan, marveling at how her husband has carved out an enviable career in a cutthroat business. His name is indeed synonymous with the best of sport, the Olympics, and his 12 Emmys attest to the caliber of his work.

Yet he still counts one accomplishment among his greatest: a happy marriage. The two got married in 1948.

"I don't think you can overemphasize the fact that you have to be as nice or nicer to the person you're married to as you are to anybody else. We still say . . . 'please' and 'thank you' to each other. And I open the car door for her," says Mr. McKay.

As they sit in their farmhouse -- their 10-year-old grandson, James Fontelieu, --ing in and out of the room -- one thing is certain: They make a good pair. The affection between them is obvious, as each humbly credits the other with making their marriage work.

They met in 1946 when Mr. McKay was hired as a reporter for The Evening Sun. Margaret Dempsey was already a star reporter, one of only a few women in the newsroom.

After a year of trying, he finally mustered the courage to ask her out. On their first date -- which appropriately enough took place at a Colts game -- he had an inkling this might turn into more than a casual relationship.

Riding to the stadium, Mr. McKay was explaining how unevenly the Baltimore and San Francisco teams were matched when Ms. McManus interrupted with her prediction for the outcome: The teams would wind up tied 28-28.

"And that was the score of the game," he says incredulously. "I knew then destiny had arrived."

His globe-trotting career has brought the couple challenges as well, particularly since Ms. McManus was forced to raise two children without her husband 46 weekends of the year. With pride, she admits to surviving fires, illness and children's squabbles alone.

"When the children were teen-agers, it was murder," she recalls. "It was the hardest thing in the world to sit on Friday and Saturday nights waiting for their cars to come home, chewing my fingernails with no one to moan and carry on to."

But the toughest experience by far was the time their house in Connecticut almost burned down while Mr. McKay was covering the Kentucky Derby.

"I called one Friday morning, and I said, 'Margaret, you don't sound exactly right. What's going on?' She said, 'Nothing . . . We had a little fire.' I said, 'We had a little fire? Wh-- wh-- what burned?' 'Well as a matter of fact,' she said, 'the whole garage burned down with our cars in it.' "

Yet it never occurred to Ms. McManus to summon her husband home. "Jim concentrated so hard when he was working that I never talked to him about what happened at home," she says. "I never felt there was much he could do at that distance, so I always saved those little surprises for when he returned."

After living together for so long, they also have come to know each other's faults. If Ms. McManus could, she would have her husband move faster, particularly in the morning when he dawdles over the paper. He, on the other hand, wishes he could find a way to make her slow down and relax more.

Mr. McKay, now 70, has cut his own work schedule in half. But he still produces TV segments that leave his younger counterparts envious. Before the Pan American games this year, he got a 4 1/2 -hour interview with Fidel Castro, during which the Cuban dictator discussed everything from sports to economics.

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