BY ALBERTO RUGGIERI
Somewhere along the treacherous path between crisis and catastrophe, there’s a fork in the road that leads to opportunity. Dan McNamee has a knack for finding those hidden junctures, even when all signs point the way to disaster.
“I believe in the human ability to innovate and overcome,” says McNamee ‘89 (J.D. ‘94). “When my father died of cancer I learned a lot about death.
“My own experience with cancer has taught me a lot about life — how I want to live and what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
In the mid 1980s, during finals week of his first semester at USD, McNamee learned that his father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He died eight months later, leaving McNamee with little means to afford his tuition. He appealed to the university’s financial aid office, which revised his financial aid package so he could finish school and later embark on a successful career.
But in June of 2008, McNamee found out that he, too, had cancer. Although the tumor hadn’t spread, it was serious enough to require immediate surgery and three months of chemotherapy — an experience that McNamee says broke him “physically, mentally and emotionally.”
“I went into it a little naive, thinking ‘a little bit of cancer, a little bit of chemo,’” he recalls. “But chemo snapped me in half. I was on an I.V. six hours a day, five days a week. It was like someone taking a vacuum and sucking all of the energy out of my body.”
McNamee, married 10 years and the father of two, says the comfort of family and friends — including several USD alumni — carried him through the ordeal.
“They brought meals, made phone calls, sent cards, watched our kids, sent e-mails and text messages, gave rides, visited, and said lots of prayers,” he says. “It was the kindness of other people that inspired me during treatment to want to do something to give back when I was healthy again.”
The opportunity presented itself last year at a Sigma Pi reunion party, where McNamee met fellow USD alumni Michael O’Connell ‘87 and Julie (Belfiore) O’Connell ‘88. The O’Connells had lost their son, Kyle, to brain stem cancer when he was just 9 years old, and had created the Kyle O’Connell Memorial Scholarship at USD in his honor. Inspired by Kyle’s story and the opportunity to give back to USD, McNamee, 41, decided to run in the America’s Finest City half-marathon in August to raise funds for the scholarship, which benefits students enrolled in the healing arts.
Now a resident of Orange County, McNamee is also trying to maximize the impact he has on society from a career standpoint. As the founder of Efficiency Capital Partners, a private equity investment management company, he oversees investment funds focused on clean technology, primarily water and energy efficiency. This marks a transition from past job experience, which has included forays into everything from sports marketing to high tech.
McNamee says his new career path is a direct result of his battle with cancer (which provided him, he says, with “a lot of time to sit and reflect,”) and represents the new perspective he has on life and the value of giving back.
“Being rendered helpless and being on the receiving end of so much generosity is a very humbling experience,” he says. “Now I’m really just trying to be present for whatever time is left. This experience has really brought home how fragile and short life is, and that we all really need to give back to all of the communities of which we are a part.”
Follow Dan McNamee’s efforts to raise money to support USD scholarships by visiting www.sandiego.edu/alumni/danmcnamee.