McGrady was 'so alive and so full of life'

Gregg McGrady, a Key West businessman who envisioned the giant rainbow flag unfurled in 2003 across the length of Duval Street from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, died Tuesday at Lower Keys Medical Center.

He was 51. The cause of death was complications from a severe kidney infection, friends said.

Gregarious and ambitious, McGrady was rich when it came to friendships, having spent 20 years as a Key West resident active in tourism and promotion of the island. 

"He was so alive and so full of life," said Jean Thornton, who knew him for a decade. "That whole acceptance and wonderful sense of community that is Key West -- he was that."

McGrady, a Somerset, Mass., native, moved to Key West in 1995, starting out as a tourist booth agent. By 2000, he was general manager of the Key West Information Center.

McGrady, who studied business marketing at Bryant University, was involved with the Key West Business Guild, the Key West district of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council and a host of projects and programs over the years.

It was McGrady who envisioned the 1.25-mile-long Sea to Sea flag and spent two years working on getting grant money for the project, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of artist Gilbert Baker's original rainbow flag that celebrated gay and lesbian pride as a response to ant-gay rhetoric.

On June 15, 2003, about 2,000 volunteers unfurled the flag along all of Duval. McGrady last month told the Miami Herald he still gets goose bumps recalling the flag's debut.

"How cool was it to see so many people from all walks of life come together to make this one moment in time happen?" McGrady said. 

Mark Ebenhoch of Key West brought a section of the flag to Australia, where it was entered into the March 6 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

In 2006, McGrady launched his campaign for Fantasy Fest king, the annual fundraising effort for AIDS Help. Candidates who raise the most win the crown.

McGrady raised $10,000 alone for one stunt: Living inside the window of the former Fast Buck Freddie's store on Duval Street for 57 hours. For donations, passersby could join him for drinks, meals or just a chat.

"He made friendship an art," said John Teets of Key West, who like many locals felt like they knew McGrady even though they weren't necessarily close. "I'd walk by that window four times a day just to catch him smile. Two institutions now gone: Fast Buck Freddie's and Gregg McGrady."

McGrady leaves his partner John Nolte.

"Please toast him at sunset tonight in Hawaii," Nolte texted upon hearing the news of McGrady's death. "He would love that."

No services were planned as of Friday.