June 1, 1924—December 31, 2020
George Edward Key, patriot, San Clemente resident and one of our nation’s greatest generation, passed away peacefully on New Year’s Eve at the age of 96. Born in the U.S. Panama Canal Zone, George learned of his family’s Key lineage early in life. (More about that later!) He enjoyed an exciting childhood in Panama: roaming the jungle, machete in hand, occasionally dragging a snake into his mom and dad’s house, much to his mom’s horror. While he was still young, his parents departed the Panama Canal Zone in search of a new place to live. They drove across the U.S. looking for a perfect place to call home. They soon found Glendale, CA was the spot! George grew up there and played high school football and basketball all 5′ 6″ of him. Then World War II broke out and, after a year of community college, he enlisted in the Army in 1943 to train as a combat engineer. He was among thousands of U.S. troops who landed on the bloody beaches of Normandy on the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of France; setting out to rescue Europe from Nazi oppression. In D-Day’s aftermath, George risked his life well into the following winter: surviving the bloody, bitter-cold Battle of the Bulge. Years later, he also served in the Korean War. While he did not talk about the difficulties and horrors of war, he was one of the many of his generation we call the “Greatest Generation” for good reason. After the war, he returned to Glendale and married the love of his life, Mary Margaret Novinger. Together they raised three children: Georgia, Carol and George. George made a career with Glendale’s Department of Water & Power. And after raising his family and residing for decades in Glendale, George and Mary chose San Clemente as their retirement home. Overlooking the 17th green of the golf course, daily golfing was their plan. George’s goal was to be a zero handicap and he almost made it, getting down to a one handicap. He and Mary remained lovingly married 51 years until his beloved life partner passed away all too soon. Over the past 25 years, it would be difficult to remember anyone in San Clemente more exuberant or reverent about the American flag than George Key — the great-great-grandson of Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Our flag carried a special significance to George as it served as a reminder of all that has been sacrificed for the nation he loved and the opportunities he had been given. Among his many patriotic endeavors, George spoke at schools about the flag’s heritage. He helped organize San Clemente’s annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances; was a sought-after guest speaker and laid ceremonial wreaths. He addressed civic organizations about the history of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And he co-founded a program in which people who owned a frayed flag unfit for display could have it retired with dignity. In addition, he created a program inviting family of deceased veterans to honor their loved ones by flying the veteran’s casket flag over City Hall. In 1998, George organized local fundraising to help the Smithsonian Institution restore a giant, 15-star American Flag that had flown over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. This flag was the inspiration for “The Star Spangled Banner.” George was active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), as commander numerous years; the American Legion, Military Order of the World Wars, Sons of the American Revolution, Rotary Club, Character Counts festivals, Neighborhood Watch, and Retired Senior Volunteer Program. He was also past President of the San Clemente Men’s Golf Club, past President of the San Clemente Lawn Bowling Association, served on the Planning Commission for six years and was elected to the Tri Cities Water Board. He is survived by his loving family of daughters, Georgia Smith (William), Carol and son George (Debbie); grandchildren Kelly, Kody (Kara), Christopher (Meleesa), Jillian (Jason), Chad, Rachel (Josh) and nine great-grandchildren. A military memorial and celebration of life service for George Key will be held at a much later date, when people can safely attend. For those wishing to make a donation in his honor, his family would appreciate you supporting the VFW, ASPCA or Alzheimer’s Association.