Remembering Dennis McGrath

May 21, 2018

The public relations industry in this town was built by a handful of giants. Dennis McGrath was one of them.

McGrath, along with Dave Mona, Scott Meyer and Sara Gavin, built a highly respected agency that became the Minneapolis office of Weber Shandwick. I was lucky enough to call that agency my professional home for the first 12 years of my career.

And for nearly 30 years, I have been lucky to call all four of those legends my mentors and friends.

On May 12, McGrath passed after a long battle with bladder cancer, dying peacefully in his sleep at the age of 81. An impeccably dressed Irishman with a quick wit, a fiery temper and a huge heart, McGrath helped shape a generation of communications professionals in the Twin Cities, including me.

This obit captures McGrath perfectly. I’ll add one story that I think further illustrates him.

In 1994, McGrath, who was a big boxing fan, and himself a boxer in his younger days, invited me to join him and his son, Dan, to sit ringside as the 45-year-old former heavyweight champion of the world, Larry Holmes, fought a much younger boxer named Jesse Ferguson at Mystic Lake Casino.

The fight went 10 rounds, with Holmes, in the twilight of his career, taking punishment. Nonetheless, the veteran fighter won on points. Afterward, McGrath, who knew everyone, wrangled an invitation to meet Holmes in his dressing room.

Spotting Holmes across a room full of fans, an excited McGrath shouted, “Hey Champ, I want you to meet a couple people!” He quickly introduced me and Dan to a battered Holmes, who reached out to us awkwardly with a left-handed handshake. His right hand, he explained, was too bruised and swollen from the fight.

When I think about who McGrath was, I think about that brief encounter with Holmes. Like Holmes, McGrath was never afraid to get in the ring, even in his later years. He was a man of principle and a fighter for the things he believed in. His family, friends and faith were at the top of that list.

And like Holmes, when his right hand was punched out after a bruising fight, McGrath was the guy who’d still work a room with his good hand, taking time to make the people around him feel like they mattered. Right up until the end of his life.

Rest in peace, Champ.