Greg McPartlin (1949-2018)

Greg McPartlin … Local Legend

Greg McPartlin was the Navy SEAL who wanted to heal, not to kill. He served his country as a Navy corpsman, first with the Marines, then as a SEAL. He did two tours of Vietnam.

He made his fame and fortune as a realtor in Coronado during the 1970s with M&M Realty. He sold the Van Ness Mansion to his good friend, L. Larry Lawrence (owner of the Hotel del Coronado), and built most of the homes in Coronado during that decade.

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But it was his follow-on career that has endeared him to millions of people – both locals and tourists, civilian and military. He opened McP’s Irish Pub in 1982 and created not only a home for the Navy SEALs, but a favorite watering hole and eatery in Coronado that grew, like its founder/owner, to legendary proportions.

Greg was blessed with good looks and a youthful, almost teenage-looking face that changed little over the years. He used that appearance of innocence to close deals and carry his ideas into action throughout his life. His was a disarming presence.

Then and now at the corner of C and Orange Avenues.

Formerly occupied by the Manhattan Room and the Arco gas station, no one at the time could have known how famous that corner at C and Orange Avenues would become under Greg’s guidance.

In 1994 he built an outdoor patio where the gas station once stood. Today it’s a lovely, tree-lined, outdoor dining and drinking area, with a stage for bands to perform. McP’s house band is Ron’s Garage. Ron Wheeler, head of that band, first played at McP’s in 1982 when they opened their doors. He and Greg had remained close all of those years.

The patio at McP’s on a typical Sunday, with Ron’s Garage Band performing. Ron Wheeler (right), of the band, began playing solo at McP’s in 1982 as a young Navy chief. He and Greg had been close friends ever since.
Dressed as the Blues Brothers, Greg, left, and best friend Russ Hagen stole the show. Wives Holly McPartlin (left) and Marta rounded out the scene.

The patio is dog-friendly and smoking is allowed. Needless to say, plenty of retired Navy SEALs can be found there mingling and enjoying the environment. As Ted Taylor, McP’s manager, puts it, “It’s our version of the TV show, ‘CHEERS,’ but on the West Coast.”

“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” It was Greg’s famous closing line in the restaurant. Sometimes, on a slow night, he would yell out, “Last call,” just to get customers to order more drinks.

Greg and employees and good friends, Tracy and Scotty cutting up.

In the early years, McP’s Irish Pub was often compared to the “Wild Wild West.” You never knew what you might find there on any given night. Greg had to hire a bouncer to keep the off-duty SEALs and BUDs from having too much fun. The trouble was that some of the SEALs wanted to fight the bouncer. It became a sort of unofficial rite of passage for some of them.

For years the restaurant promoted SEAL Team Night every Thursday. Greg called it his “weekend starter night.” McP’s was open every day of the year except Race Day, when he would take his entire staff to Del Mar for the races. Over the years, all of that has toned down tremendously.

Today one would be hard pressed to identify SEALs enjoying McP’s. They are low-key; rarely does any fighting occur, and everyone feels like they are a stakeholder in the place, which leads to a pride of “ownership” the likes of which few, if any, restaurants in Coronado or San Diego can boast.

Greg McPartlin died November 5, from an extremely aggressive form of liver cancer. He was 69. He had been wheelchair-bound for several years. Despite his physical limitations, Greg managed operations at McP’s on a daily basis until two weeks before his passing.

Greg, with long time managers Tracy Taylor and Armando Lira. This was at the 33rd anniversary of McP’s.

Politicians returned his calls promptly. He continued to have the respect and love of his employees and customers. He continued to make decisions as they pertained to the restaurant. He was, from day one, the boss and the brains of McP’s.

Greg was past president of the Coronado Chamber of Commerce and an active member of the Coronado 20-30 Club. During that time, he was voted by the San Diego Union as one of the most successful and up-and-coming young businessmen in the county. Versatility was Greg’s spice of life. He was also an ordained minister and performed dozens of marriages in his restaurant.

Greg and Holly on the day of their wedding.

Despite legendary status among locals, however, he never let any of it give him a big head. To those close to him, he remained a humble genius with a sense of humor and a big heart.

His favorite joke, when holding someone’s newborn baby, was to act like he ran into the wall with the baby. It got old to the staff at McP’s but always got laughs.

Little Jessica at her christening.

His generosity was well-known. He gave and gave, but never asked for credit or anything in return. It is estimated he donated more than $100,000 to area causes – the Coronado Library and school system, SEAL Team reunions, high school athletics, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the July Fourth Parade. He also loaned money to friends in need. He was always there for his friends and family.

When he donated money, he would warn that, if they ever told anyone about his donations, he would stop. He had no desire to be recognized for something he felt was his duty to do – to help those in need.

Greg and his older brother Jeff McPartlin.

“I think that sort of attitude towards giving ran in our family,” said brother Jeff, one of four McPartlin siblings and four years older than Greg. “We were all generous, but Greg more so. He was even generous with strangers.”

A medical operation went bad in 2010 and Greg lost the use of his legs. While at the VA recovering, he realized there were a lot of veterans with spinal cord injuries who never saw anything but the inside walls of the VA – never ate anything except cafeteria food.

Greg and Russ Hagen on a camping trip.

When he recovered, Greg made it a point to host every one of them on the first Saturday of the month to a spectacular lunch on the patio of McP’s, at his own expense, of course. That was typical of Greg McPartlin – to give back whenever possible.

Greg’s brother recalled one of those Saturday lunches. “I remember Greg had pulled one young fellow to the side who had lost his legs,” said Jeff McPartlin. “I overheard Greg tell him that he had his whole life ahead of him, and that he could do this. Greg called on the Lord often and always. He shared that too, with this young soldier. It was very moving for me to see my little brother breathe hope and faith into this young man. Somehow, I feel that was the norm, not the exception in Greg’s life.”

When reached by telephone from his home in Montana, Jeff McPartlin had lots to say about his little brother. “I still remember when mom brought that pudgy little baby home from the hospital,” said Jeff.

“As his big brother, Greg used to follow me around like a puppy. Of course, I picked on him, like all big brothers do, and his favorite thing to say was – and I can hear it today as though it was just yesterday – ‘I’m gonna tell … I’m gonna tell …’ He was definitely the spoiled brat of the family, but we were inseparable and extremely close as brothers.

Greg and his older brother Fred.

“We attended Saint Mary’s Parochial School. The Sisters of Mercy were our teachers, and believe me, they put the fear of God in us at a very early age, as did our parents.

“I remember once, while playing sandlot football, Greg’s leg was broken in a tackle. After settling with the fellow who broke Greg’s leg, I carried him home. He had these two Guinea pigs named Henny and Genny. Well, they had gotten out of their cage and were nowhere to be seen.

“I had two trained hawks at the time, that we used for hunting. When Greg saw his little pets gone, he thought my hawks had eaten them. Boy, but was he mad. I though he was gonna hit me with his crutches.

“Greg never clamored for attention, and was reluctant to accept applause,” said Jeff. “That’s how he grew up. He was a terrific brother to me. It really hit home with me, years later, as adults, when I saw what a great man he had become.”

Late in his life, Greg returned to his faith as a strict Roman Catholic. He honored that by attending church every day. He became a fixture at not only Coronado’s Sacred Heart, but at the chapel on North Island Naval Air Station and at the Italian chapel in Little Italy.

In 2005, Greg released his book, Combat Corpsman, a Vietnam memoir of his time as a Navy SEAL. In it he described numerous operations in Vietnam and elsewhere. He also discussed his role in the sea recovery of Apollo 11 – the first spaceship to carry men to the moon. Just for fun, Greg even served as a consultant to the movie, Pearl Harbor.

Greg had always planned to be a doctor as a child, growing up in Lake Forest, Illinois. Medicine ran in the family. His grandfather was the first white doctor in the Dakotas and helped found the Mayo Clinic.

His first job was driving an ambulance at the age of 16, alongside older brothers Fred and Jeff. The next year he was racing stockcars and working for Village Ambulance Services. One day he got the call that a woman in the grandstands was having a baby.

They loaded her in the ambulance but she couldn’t wait. Half way to the hospital Greg had to pull over and deliver the baby. Perhaps that was the point when he knew his future was in medicine.

Two years later Greg enlisted in the Navy and became a corpsman. He was assigned to Marine Third Force Recon, one of the elite special-forces units known as, “…the eyes and the ears of the Corps.” They deployed to Vietnam in 1968 just in time for the TET Offensive. “Lots of tagging and bagging,” he would recall in his book.

When that tour ended, Greg requested to be reassigned to the Navy. He was steered to Navy SEALs. Their need for corpsmen created an opportunity for him.

As a Special Operations Technician, Greg trained at the Navy’s Underwater Swim School in Key West, Florida. At the conclusion of training he was assigned to SEAL Team One, ALFA Platoon, in Coronado.

While he and his fellow corpsmen-trainees did not do Hell Week or demolition training, they completed all the other aspects of SEAL training. He then deployed for a second tour in Vietnam.

When ALFA Platoon deployed, Greg was only expected to serve in a medical capacity. But, while on patrol, in addition to his medical kit, Greg liked to carry the Stoner-63, a light, fully automatic machine gun that stayed on target with little or no recoil.

Many of these and other stories of his time in the Armed Forces can be found in Greg’s book, Combat Corpsman, which is a real page-turner. In it you learn to understand the major events in his life that helped shape the man Coronado got to know in the decades to follow.

“God knows he was a lousy aim,” said Jeff, of his little brother. “We McPartlins liked to hunt. We continued to do hunting trips together as adults. And I can tell you, my little brother couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a double-barreled shotgun. He was a terrible aim.

Both photos show Greg and ALFA platoon. The top photo is just before they deployed. The second photo is at Seafloat, on the beach.

“I once asked him how he felt about carrying a weapon in Vietnam, in that he was such a lousy shot.” He said, ‘I could turn a jungle into a shredded mass in a matter of seconds with my Stoner.’ Well, I just had to laugh when I heard that.”

Being a Navy SEAL meant an awful lot to Greg. He was very proud of that and it meant everything to him that SEALs came to his restaurant and made it their own. His duty for his country was a very significant part of his life and something he was extremely proud of.

“I remember when Greg enlisted in the Navy,” said Jeff. “I felt he was a lot better at being a corpsman than his family gave him credit for. Fred and I, like Greg, also worked for the ambulance service. We felt he wasn’t doing anything more than we were, but it turns out he had something else, something special in him, that took him in that direction. Fred went into the Marines as a pilot. I went into law enforcement. But we were very, very proud of Greg then, and always.”

There was no way to count the number of lives saved by this combat corpsman during the Vietnam War. Many are documented in his book, but Greg wasn’t the type to keep score, and he balked at such questions.

There was never a dull moment around Greg and Holly McPartlin.

In civilian life, Greg once talked a jumper down from the Coronado Bridge. Another time, the City of Coronado made it “Greg McPartlin Day” and issued him a Proclamation for bringing a young drowning victim back to life. To this day she visits the McPartlin household annually, as an adult, with a family of her own, to honor Greg for giving her life back to her.

During his long tenure as owner of McP’s Irish Pub, it was not uncommon to see Greg leap into action to save the life of a customer. Within moments, Greg could be found straddling a lifeless body, pounding the chest to recover a heartbeat or breathing air into his lungs. Most were saved. Some were too far gone. But nothing stopped him from going into action – a knee-jerk reaction ingrained in him, taught him while in the service of his country.

Greg McPartlin adored his five children. Seen here with Drew and Cerissa.

At the time of this writing, Greg was being considered for inclusion on Coronado’s Avenue of Heroes. Old Town Trolley, who had a long and productive relationship with Greg and McP’s Irish Pub (they load and offload in front of his restaurant), intend to name a trolley after him.

He continued to jump out of airplanes with his SEAL buddies every year on his birthday. This year his daughters Jessica and Maggie would like to do the jump in his place, and in his memory.

Greg and oldest daughter, Cerissa.

“I always told Greg I had to go first, so I could pull him through the Pearly Gates,” said brother Jeff. “He would stop what he was doing, turn and look at me and say, ‘Jeff, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.’

“As fate would have it, I’m the last one standing, but I know my little brother is up there now, watching over us all, and that’s a most comforting thought. To have been able to call Greg my brother is probably the biggest honor in my lifetime.”

From left, Jill Jones, long-time McP’s employee and friend, Greg, and daughter Jessica.

Jeff McPartlin and his three daughters are flying out from Montana for their Uncle Greg’s funeral. Jeff is scheduled to give the eulogy.

Greg is survived by his wife Holly, of 35 years, and his children Drew, Cerissa, Jessica, Greg and Maggie. He is also survived by four grandchildren, and his brother Jeff McPartlin of Great Falls, Montana.

Greg and his youngest, Maggie.

Services will be held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, in Coronado, Tuesday, November 20 at 1 p.m. Immediately following the services a Celebration of Life – a good, old-fashioned Irish wake – will take place at McP’s Irish Pub, 1107 Orange Avenue, where the Stilettos will perform on the patio. An open mic will be available to those wishing to share their memories of Greg McPartlin.

The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Paralyzed Veterans Association at http://www.caldiegopva.org, “In Memory of Greg McPartlin.”

 

 

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Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call joeditler@gmail.com, or (619) 435-0767.