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JJ McKay :: Seattle’s Greatest Socialite

by Sally Kassab
Saturday Nov 29, 2008

In Seattle, everyone wants to be on JJ McKay's "list."

That's because he's single-handedly turned Seattle's socialite scene into something that would rival New York's.

McKay is 42, gay, and single. He's a marketing maven and former non-profit fundraiser who knows everyone "worth knowing" in the Emerald City.

As we write this, he's returned from New York, where he threw a party for guests like actor Joshua Breckenridge and Jacque Cousteau's granddaughter, Celine Cousteau. And dozens of his Seattle and Portland friends flew out there for it.

"I try to make life very fun," he says.

And he does.

We recently attended a party McKay threw for a local billionaire and his fianc?e. Nearly every big name in Seattle was there, and McKay and co-hosts Ed and Kathy Fries got two real life opera singers to belt out arias for the couple. Everyone had goose bumps.

"I thought it would be romantic," McKay said afterwards. "Wasn't that fun?"
It was held at the New York-style loft of artist Steve Jensen and his partner, Vincent Lipe. Kathy Fries is a philanthropist; husband Ed Fries is former Microsoft executive who led the expansion of the company's game-publishing group from "Flight Simulator" for the personal computer to "Halo" for the Xbox.

Actor Tom Skerritt attended, along with big Seattle names such as the Schwartz, McCaw, and Barrier families. Gerard Schwartz is longtime director of the Seattle Symphony and one of the longest-tenured music directors in America; McCaw is a telecommunications mogul and the founder of Clearwire and his wife is former U.S. ambassador in Austria. The Barrier family owns a large luxury car dealership.

Needless to say, the party was a raging success.

But so are many of McKay's parties. When JJ has a birthday party - or any kind of party - it often fills the pages of one of Seattle's gossip sheets. It's likely because of that "magic" factor that McKay has. Just ask U.S. Bank President of Washington state, Ken Kirkpatrick.

McKay's previous job of 14 years was as Senior Vice President - or main fundraiser -- for the local office of the American Heart Association. Kirkpatrick says that McKay was solely responsible for getting the bank to donate to the association.

"As a president of a bank, you get lots of opportunities to buy tables for things," Kirkpatrick says. "But something has to determine which ones. For me, that's a great cause, employee involvement, and someone who's a great steward of the organization. JJ is a great steward: he genuinely takes care of what he is involved in."

Elizabeth Squires, author of "Boobs: A Guide to Your Girls," credits McKay with the huge success of her book-launch party.

"I met JJ at a friend's wedding, and I'd heard about him before," Squires says. "I told him I was planning this boobs bash and JJ had a gazillion ideas because he's a party animal and to be honest with you, I am so glad I ran into him. He's so creative, has great ideas, and knows everyone in town."

But not just anyone gets on his "list": "Everyone is expected to be a good guest," McKay says. "They should try to be interesting and speak to everybody."

He may be known for his incredible parties, but that's not all he is. "He has this persona of, everything is about the next party," says Cathi Hatch, founder of angel investment group Zino Society, who knows McKay from several non-profit arts boards. "But when you get to spend time with him one on one, there is much more depth. He's a very caring, smart, articulate person."

As for his love life, he says he'd love to meet someone: manly, dark curly hair, and smart are his typical "type." But he's not dwelling on it.

Some days, JJ has quiet days, where he just works at his home office, doing consulting for companies like the retail nail chain Butter London and a local biotech firm. "Butter London came to me because they needed more customers, and I started an affinity program for them," he says.

"He has great business ideas," Squires says. "I talk to him about who I should connect with, and he's got that whole streak of southern hospitality. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it's a different breed. There, you invite people into your home. He's brought that kind of warm attitude with everyone he meets."

You can feel the warmth when McKay talks about his roots. He speaks of his father, a Marine captain, who died in Vietnam just before he was born. And he always talks of his small town in "the South," Milton, Fla., near Pensacola, which he notes is just a stone's throw from Mobile, Alabama. Not exactly the easiest place to be gay.

He didn't come out of the closet until he was in his mid 30s, though he knew much earlier. "I was watching the Dukes of Hazzard when I was eight, and my friends were talking about Daisy and all I could see was Luke Duke," McKay says. In college in West Florida, McKay joined a fraternity and "had crushes on the guys" in the house.

McKay's mother, now 68, was active in the Junior League, and taught him all he knows about social graces. He credits her with nearly everything.

Everything about him is unique. He drives a 1974 Triumph Spitfire, which fits his personality. Why a Spitfire? It was inspired by the Spitfire his dad drove in a cross-country trip with his mother decades ago.

If you see one outside a house, it's most likely a JJ McKay party that's happening.

"Seeing so many people happy at my parties is just fabulous," he says.

Learn more about McKay:


  • , 2008-11-29 14:59:06

    A great socialite and an all around wonderful guy. What’s not to love about JJ?

  • , 2008-11-30 17:01:17

    It’s all true!!! JJ is really unique. His events are spectacular, but then so is lunch with just him.

  • , 2008-12-13 21:12:46

    JJ is the "Real Deal" so compassionate, so classy, so fun; truly an honor to know.

  • , 2012-11-23 17:25:07

    I knew JJ when he graduated from UWF and worked in Pensacola. He took me out for my birthday, a birthday that I will never forget. Treated me like a Queen!! I love him like a brother. The sweetest, compassionate, sincere and most caring guy that I have ever met. Susan Levine

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