Dr. Alexander Joseph MacGillis, MD, entered into eternal life on September 7, 2023, at the age of 94. Alex is survived by his three daughters Margaret MacGillis, Carol Mottram (Allan), and Christine Stauffer (Brian), his grandchildren Ian, Will, Keirynn, Ben, Katherine Mottram, and Jack, Genevieve, and Charlotte Stauffer. Alex is also survived by his brother-in-law Paul Capelli, sisters-in-law Katy Rozanski (Mark), Patricia Morien, Shirley Krembs, and many admiring nieces, nephews, and friends.
Alex is preceded in death by his beloved wife of 60 years Mary Krembs MacGillis (June 27, 2022), his treasured and only son Andrew MacGillis (December 24, 2016), his parents Regina and Crescent MacGillis, his brothers John (Louisette, Marguerite), Jim (Kay, Fern), Paul (Florence) MacGillis, sister Mary Capelli, brothers in law Jack Morien, George and Max Krembs (Jean).
Alexander was a devoted husband and father, a loving grandfather (Gampa), a dedicated and hard-working physician, a lifelong devout Catholic with an unwavering faith and trust in God, a self-taught musician, a master swimmer, and a friend and caregiver to all animals (we think he has donated to every animal fund in existence).
His brilliant mind and memory for detail were unmatched and astounding by any measure, easily recalling addresses of childhood friends and family, dates of all personal and historical events including the day of the week on which they occurred, the names of mentors, professors, nurses and physicians with whom he worked; even the names of the mice he be-friended in the lab during medical school. He had a unique sense of humor and a special knack for quickly finding the comical side of most or any situation and an optimism and enthusiasm that were contagious. He was generous with anyone and everyone who crossed his path.
Alexander was born on Tuesday November 6, 1928, to Regina Ann Koperski and Crescent Joseph MacGillis. Regina, a loving but overwhelmed mother facing financial hardship and multiple life stressors, asked her doctor to take Alex in at the time of his birth. Thankfully, Dr. Roethke declined Regina’s request and little did Regina know that Alex would become the apple of her eye and her most treasured and beloved “Alec” as she would endearingly call him.
Due to hardship, Regina entrusted Alex to her parents, Grandma and Grandpa Koperski, with whom he lived intermittently for many years. Regina’s sister Sarapheen, a nurse, became a mentor to Alex and an instrumental influence in his aspiration to become a physician, fostered during the many house calls made by Aunt Sarapheen in which the young impressionable Alex accompanied her.
Alex’s formative years were marked by the Great Depression, which had a substantial impact on his entire life. Dad never wanted anything to go to waste. Without hesitation, he would eat food that our brother Andy had chewed up and spit out, repair his old running shoes by duct taping them at the seam, and use a rubber band to repair his eyeglasses (“they still work, this is my ‘bad eye’ anyway”). Al had a profound respect for the value of all things and was never outdone in generosity when it came to his family and loved ones.
Alexander attended St. Matthew’s Catholic School from 2nd-8th grade, where he was taught Catholicism by the Dominican nuns and was an altar server at Mass; he would remain a St. Matthew’s parishioner until the age of 31. In 1942, Alex started his freshman year at Polaski High, as it was his goal to compete in the brand new swimming pool under Coach Knudtson. As a sophomore at Polaski, Alex won the 25-yard butterfly and 25-yard backstroke. He additionally became a track star and was a sophomore decathlon winner, and placed second in the mile (Dan Garmin was first).
Swimming remained a passion his entire life, competing in countless swim meets at the Masters level, breaking records in his age group and earning the title of US Masters Swimming All American. Dad earned hundreds of Blue Ribbons and Gold Medals (they’re hanging on hooks in the wall throughout our family home). Alex’s final swim meet was at age 94, when he was devastated after placing second behind a 92-year-old geezer from Chicago! Dadgummit!
Alex attended the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee extension program at night from September 1947 until January 1948, as he needed to work full time during the day at Pritzlaff Hardware to financially support himself. He then attended Milwaukee State Teacher’s College from 1948 until 1950, where he enrolled in pre-medical classes in order to begin pursuit of his dream to become a doctor. During this time, he also worked as a Janitor at Mount Boulevard Elementary school where he would mop 8 classrooms in 2 hours followed by third shift from 11PM to 7AM at Allen Bradley in the electrical department. His strong work ethic was a defining and honorable lifelong characteristic, regularly clocking a 60–70-hour work week most of his career as a physician.
In 1950, Alex was called to duty in Oklahoma at Fort Sill, where he was stationed for the next 15 months. While at Fort Sill, he attended Artillery school and learned to be a surveyor. He also continued as a competitive swimmer, obtaining 3rd place in the breaststroke and 4th place overall at the army swim meet. He arrived home to his mother Regina’s house on November 18, 1951, in order to return to work at Allen Bradley and complete his pre-medical coursework at Marquette University.
Finally, on August 25, 1952, Alexander started medical school at Marquette University School of Medicine and graduated 24th out of 103 students, thus qualifying him for internship at the University of Iowa.
Upon completion of his medicine internship in 1957, Dr. MacGillis worked as a general practitioner (or GP as it was called back then) in Milwaukee, delivering babies (even triplets), doing house calls, and covering a busy office practice on 36th Street and Oklahoma. Alex considered this to be “the most fun of his life.”
The “most fun of his life” was about to become even more fun in July of 1958 when Alexander met his future wife, Mary Krembs, RN, who was a new graduate nurse at Saint Francis Hospital in Milwaukee. While Dr. MacGillis was checking on his Uncle Henry who was hospitalized with angina, he noticed Mary in her white stockings and white nurse’s cap. Who was this feisty blonde nurse? Their first encounter involved an “icky, gooey” soap dispenser and was followed by a proper first date at Carl’s supper club in Bayview, which lasted until bar time.
This was a long courtship, as Alex’s ambition continued to soar amid his desire to pursue specialty practice as a physician. Urology won his favor, and he began general surgery residency on July 1, 1960, with Dr. Sauter. Following general surgery residency, Alex had to leave his mother, Regina, with whom he still lived, and his love interest Mary Krembs, to move to Rochester, NY, to begin urology residency on July 1, 1961.
Two months later, Al purchased an engagement ring for Mary at Kloiber Jewelers and finally proposed to Mary at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine on 68th and Bluemound. Alas, the engagement would be ongoing, since Al had only just begun his residency.
In 1962 Mary became aggravated by this long engagement and went to Rochester to ask Alex if he genuinely intended to marry her. She called his bluff by moving into Helen Wood Hall and accepting an RN position as the Supervisor of the Student Health Center at the University of Rochester. Finally, after four years of dating, Alex married the love of his life on November 1, 1962, at St. Robert Bellermine Catholic church in Merrill, WI at a Solemn High Mass.
Finally husband and wife, Mary and “her Al” returned to Milwaukee, as Alex had promised Dr. Calvy he would start a Urology practice with him. Along with Drs. Calvy and Hotter, Alex became the Co-Founder of Urology Associates in Wauwatosa, WI, starting his career on August 28th 1965 and continuing for 36 years until June 15, 2001. Dr. MacGillis then continued his practice as a Urologist at the Veteran’s Administration (VA) in Milwaukee, from September 2001 until November 2013, at which time he remained on faculty and became a volunteer Urologist until July 2015 at the age of 85.
In the midst of their busy personal and professional lives, Alex and Mary felt the calling to adopt and raise four children: Margaret Mary, twins Carol Jean and Christine Ann, and their only beloved son Andrew Alexander. Alex would come home from a busy day at the hospital and find all three toilets filled with dirty cloth diapers, where Mary would leave them to “soak”, forcing Alex to go the neighbor’s house to use the bathroom!
Alex was a master musician and pianist, jamming on a banjo he fashioned out of a green metal barrel and a white rope, playing the concertina like nobody’s business, belting out his famous Caldonia on the piano at many MacGillis parties, including at his daughter’s wedding when he asked a friend of the band director: “Do you think your buddy would let me play his keyboard?” Alex could play any tune on the piano by ear and would sing “Happy Birthday” to his grandchildren every year via phone or in person.
Alex somehow always found the time during his busy years in private practice to put his family first, mapping out several long-distance road excursions across the US in the MacGillis family camper. These trips were filled with family fun, as Dad had many ideas for entertainment such as planning and orchestrating “The Olympics” in which he planned events for his children to participate in, and then presented them with homemade awards. Other entertainment included watching bears roam the MacGillis family campsite, eating meals at the camper kitchen table that converted into Alex and Mary’s bed, and arguing over who got to sit in the front seat while Dad drove the Winnebago.
Alex had a profound love of downhill skiing and introduced his family to this coveted sport, taking us to Vail, Colorado yearly for family ski vacations and stays at our beloved Willows condominium. Vail would become a second home to our family due to our Dad’s generosity and love of his family.
We, the family of Alexander MacGillis, extend our sincere gratitude to our sister Margaret MacGillis, who made it possible for our Dad to remain living on the lake in our cherished family home.
Visitation for Alexander MacGillis will be on Thursday, September 21, 2023 from 5-7PM at the Becker Ritter Funeral Home (14075 W. North Avenue, Brookfield, WI). Additional visitation will be on Friday, September 22nd, 2023, from 9-10:15AM at St. Anthony on the Lake Catholic Church (W280N2101 Prospect Avenue, Pewaukee, WI) followed by the Mass of Christian Burial at 10:15AM celebrated by Fr. Tony Zimmer with lunch reception to follow. Burial at 3PM at Mount Olivet Cemetery (3801 W. Morgan Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53221). Memorials to Wildlife in Need or Catholic Memorial High School are appreciated.