SAN DIEGO — Every year during the first week of June, the management of a mid-sized apartment house in East Lansing, Mich., throws a picnic for the building's tenants. The guests play softball, drink beer, eat hot dogs and popcorn. It is, in short, the quintessential Midwestern summer fest.
The picnic was founded in June, 1973, by one Don McVay, an undergraduate at Michigan State University. He had moved into the building just a week earlier, and organizing a picnic seemed the best way to meet all the tenants at once. The management was so impressed by the event's success that when McVay moved on, it continued the party as an annual tradition.
At one minute past midnight on Jan. 1, 1986, Donald W. McVay, Esq., an attorney with the prestigious firm of Higgs, Fletcher and Mack, stood on a Horton Plaza balcony, his serene smile clearly visible through the swirling blizzard of confetti that engulfed some 2,000 revelers.
Charity League Founder
As founder and president of the San Diego League, an association of young professionals and business people that raises funds for the benefit of children's charities, McVay was on hand to supervise and enjoy the Masked Ball, the latest in a successful string of league parties. It raised approximately $50,000 for its beneficiaries, and is expected to become an annual event.
The San Diego League developed from much the same impetus as the East Lansing picnic: McVay, the new kid on the block, wanted to meet all his neighbors at once. Fresh from earning an advanced degree in tax law at New York University, McVay was hired by the San Diego firm of Jenkins and Perry, and moved here in September, 1981.
Jo Ann Taormina, an attorney who at that time also worked at Jenkins and Perry and who became a league co-founder, said, "A month after Don joined the firm, he started describing his idea for the league. He likes to organize, and the league went hand in hand with the idea of helping charities and giving something back to the community. It gave him a chance to meet people as well. He's a very social person."
McVay, who freely describes himself as "everybody's friend," admittedly is a very social person. But therein lies a certain rub: From Michigan picnics to Gargantuan black tie fund-raisers in the heart of a revitalized downtown San Diego is a longer distance than it might seem to be, especially when the organizer is a young, single male.
McVay was all of 29 when he first began blueprinting the San Diego League, and furthermore he was treading on ground unaccustomed to the step of masculine feet. The organization of the social whirl has traditionally been a sport limited to well-to-do women whose children have flown the nest and whose husbands feel the need to maintain a visible position in the community.
Although some traditions have been bent, it is still fair to say that while men may sit on the boards of cultural and charitable institutions, they are not welcome to join the committees that plan San Diego's myriad galas, balls and festivals.
So when McVay set out to form the San Diego League in 1981, he was not merely engaging in social pioneering, he had to serve as his own role model. It was his good fortune to be able to do so.
At work, Donald W. McVay, Esq., seems exactly like the relaxed, cheerful Don McVay who beams through the night at league events. There does not seem to be much change in persona from ballroom to office (a choice location high up in the First National Bank building, complete with bay and ocean views), where he said he spends 50 hours a week on legal matters and another 15 coordinating various charity efforts.
His working time is spent assembling "private placement memoranda," which offer investment opportunities in real estate, equipment leasing and other areas. His charity time, he said, is spent with his "feet propped on the table, talking on the speakerphone and looking at that view."
When it was suggested that it might seem reasonable for his employer to expect him to spend most of his office time generating business for the firm, McVay responded, "If I worked for a firm that objected to my volunteer activities, I wouldn't stay with that firm. And I do it on my own time. Rather than going to happy hour at Confetti, or whatever my peer group might do, I can work from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. on charity events."
McVay, it should be said, is not above having fun. He does like it to be on his own terms, though, and he doesn't mind if it is useful. For example, he organized a party last autumn that celebrated the kickoff of the Big Ten college football season and drew several hundred local Big Ten alumni. The decor included maple leaves flown in from Michigan's Upper Peninsula (McVay is also founder and president of San Diego's Michigan State Alumni Club), and the proceeds from the modest admission charge helped send the Patrick Henry High Marching Patriots to the Rose Bowl parade.