One night in the summer of 2014, Santa Rosa native and Piner High alumnus Ken McRae saw a pack of predators encircle a boy downtown.
A former wrestler and wrestling coach who worked at the time in road construction with Team Ghilotti, McRae could have turned his head. But he stepped up and he, in the boy’s stead, took a vicious beating from the gang of toughs.
“He jumped right in to help someone. He was just that way,” said McRae’s mother, Nancy Clancy, also of Santa Rosa.
McRae fought also with depression, and on Aug. 11 he took his own life. The father of two and grandfather of three was 50.
He told The Press Democrat shortly after the attack in central Santa Rosa’s transit mall on June 28, 2014, that beyond being seriously injured he was deeply disturbed by the dozen or so teen assailants’ cold-heartedness.
“My concern was how animalistic they were,” he said.
McRae, who following high school had stayed fit by running and cycling, was in the lobby at the Roxy Theater when he saw that outside on Santa Rosa Avenue a boy was being chased and his backpack grabbed at by a group of youths.
McRae ran out, caught up with the teens and shouted at them to back off. They turned on him, and one member of the group strode up and hit him so hard that he suspected the attacker had spent time in a boxing ring.
“He had no fear in his eyes, none whatsoever,” McRae said after a couple of weeks of healing. After that punch, others of the teens pummeled and kicked him.
A longtime friend, Tracy Clark, recalled that she saw McRae shortly after the beating and he told her he’d sustained some brain damage.
“He was a kind, sincere, loving man that had demons, even prior to the attack,” Clark wrote in an email to The Press Democrat.
McRae’s mother said he tried medication for his depression but didn’t stay on it. Clancy added, “He had to fight to keep on top” of the illness.
Kenneth Eugene McRae was born at Memorial Hospital on Oct. 29, 1967. After a successful run as a wrestler at Piner High he stayed on as a volunteer coach.
His day jobs always involved working with his hands. His mother said he was first employed in road work with the city of Santa Rosa.
He worked subsequently at Weeks Drilling & Pump Co. and Team Ghilotti, and at the time of his death was working with one of his brothers, Don McRae, a Santa Rosa electrical contractor.
“He had a unique personality, always laughing and joking,” their mother said.
She said he spent some of his happiest times with his grandchildren. “They were his world,” she said.
In addition to his mother, his brother in Santa Rosa, his daughter, Kendell McRae of Santa Rosa, his son, Miller McRae of Napa, and his three grandkids, McRae is survived by his sister, Tina Weaver of Santa Rosa, and his other brothers, Greg McRae of Lower Lake and Dennis Barrett Jr. of Windsor.
A celebration of his life is at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 at the Center for Spiritual Living on Occidental Road.