A disease like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) takes no prisoners. There’s no time for a trial. You can appeal to every court in the land, but it’s no use. ALS has no mercy. The sentence is quick but drawn out. You’re put on a firing line and then made to wait. ALS is just plain mean.
Better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is an always-fatal neurodegenerative disease that basically means your brain stops talking to your body. They sort of disconnect over a short period of time. People with ALS lose their ability to walk, talk, eat, and eventually breathe. It’s an insidious and paralyzing disease with no cure. To make things even worse, while your body is shutting down, you’re completely aware mentally and emotionally. In other words, you get to stand by and watch.
Tim McKinney is a successful businessman in his 50s and still in the prime of his life. You probably know him better as the name behind the McKinney Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, RAM and McKinney Mazda auto dealerships in Easley. You know, the television commercials with the cute kids or beautiful models, or . . . Tim. In addition, he owns an aviation charter business out of the downtown airport, an apartment development in Pickens, a few other small businesses that he has consolidated, along with a commercial real estate business in Charlotte centered around 65 prime acres.
Not bad for a kid from West Virginia who grew up working with his dad on a car lot since age 11. Who was first in his family of six to go to college. Who graduated and then moved to Charlotte to work—where else?—for car dealerships, learning the ins and outs of the business. In 1998 when he saw that a Dodge, Chrysler, RAM, Jeep dealership was up for sale, he took a huge risk, purchased the dealership and moved to Easley. This was when these brands weren’t exactly popular. While they have been around for a long while, there was no RAM 1500 truck or Jeep Renegade in 1998.
His dealerships are known for their customer service especially when you bring your car or truck in for repairs. The employees at a McKinney dealership act as if you’ve just arrived for a mani/pedi. They pamper you and you understand why there’s “customer” in customer service.
Tim is a giver by nature. He loves to help, especially those charities near and dear to his heart.
But this isn’t magic—a big part is how you treat your employees. In the world of buying and selling cars, the turnover rate is exceptionally high. Ask any employee at the McKinney dealerships, and you will find that most have been there ten years or more. They’re treated exceptionally well and they’re a loyal bunch. Just ask them the last time they paid for lunch, and they will happily tell you that Tim buys them lunch almost every day. Tim has giving in his DNA.
Tim is a giver by nature. He loves to help, especially those charities near and dear to his heart. As expected, he has a long list of near and dear, and a big heart. Tim’s a dog guy. So, naturally, the Greenville Humane Society is at the top of his list for giving back. It’s said that at one of the parties he hosted at his home for the Humane Society, there was a dog in every room. Tim never has a party at his home just for fun. His parties are always for someone else—the underserved, those in need, those hurting, or those with incurable diseases. That’s Tim.
When Tim donates, it is impactful. The charities on his list include (in no particular order): Meals on Wheels of Greenville County, Greenville Humane Society, Oconee Humane Society, The Children’s Museum of the Upstate, South Carolina’s Children Theatre, Center Stage, Metropolitan Arts Council, Cancer Society of Greenville, Cancer Society of Pickens, Salvation Army, Senior Action, Clemson University Foundation, and too many more to list. He just doesn’t have the ability to say no.
He’s definitely not all bark—he has bite. But there is a lot of barking in the lobby of the Greenville Humane Society’s “Healing Place Tim McKinney Lobby.” The Healing Place is an important part of the Humane Society that helps animals that others would most likely “put down.” The Healing Place is what got Tim involved with the Humane Society back in 2010. Since then, he has been the largest donor each year. He was on the board of directors for six years and just recently resigned because of his health. “Tim is one of those larger-than-life personalities,” says Kim Pittman, who retired in late 2020 after fourteen years as CEO of the Greenville Humane Society. “He leads by example and sets the bar for giving very high.”
Tim is one of those larger-than-life personalities. He leads by example and sets the bar for giving very high.
When the Humane Society launched its capital campaign in 2014, Tim was the pacesetter. “We raised $3.3 million, and Tim’s gift was a large portion of the total raised,” says Pittman. “He’s been a lifelong friend to the Humane Society. We’ve benefited from his leadership, generosity, and friendship.”
The local arm of the American Red Cross thinks of Tim each month when they receive a check from the DMV. “Tim not only gives big, he was instrumental in our Red Cross vanity license plate program, which continues to provide revenue to this day. We are so grateful for all he’s done,” says Lisa Colby, executive director of the Upstate SC Chapter of the American Red Cross.
With no children of his own, Tim decided to support many organizations that help children. “He really appreciates the things we do for young people through our outreach programs, not just theater,” notes Debbie Bell, executive director of South Carolina Children’s Theatre. “Tim has been a hero to our organization and has been our lead sponsor every year. He’s a wonderful friend.”
Tim is the guy that at Christmas actually searches for the Salvation Army Santa outside multiple stores while most of us turn a blind eye. He takes pleasure in dropping money into the pot. He knows it will be used for good, and that brings him joy. He has also become one of the Salvation Army’s biggest Secret Santas. “I didn’t have children of my own, but I found joy in knowing I could make a few hundred kids’ Christmas morning happy and exciting,” he says.
Also a pilot, Tim has owned up to thirteen airplanes. His favorite was his workhorse Beechcraft King Air 200. He used planes as an integral part of his business. At one time he owned a small jet. At his expense, he has donated the use of the jet (and his other planes) more than he ever got to fly them. When the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) was looking for a way to safely and quickly transport critical organs, Tim gladly loaned them his jet. The smaller planes were often used to get needy families to special healthcare facilities. If you know anything about the cost of owning, flying, and maintaining an airplane, then you know these were substantial gifts.
In total, over the past fifteen years, it’s estimated that Tim has given just north of $5 million to charities in the Upstate. In some circles this may not sound like a lot, but this is Greenville. This is life-changing goodness. His reward for all of this, while not really expecting one, was contracting ALS. “Less than a year ago, I was independent of my daily care, transportation, finances, etc. Now, I have to ask someone to scratch my nose or move my arm because I have lost all physical capabilities,” he says.
That’s why this part of his story is so crazy. In February 2020, Tim noticed a numbness in his right foot that eventually led to a foot drop. Doctors initially thought it was related to back troubles or nerve damage, but it progressed so rapidly that by springtime they suspected something more serious, something unthinkable—could it be ALS? “I have known Tim for nearly 20 years as his primary care physician. He strived to live a healthy lifestyle and made it a point to keep up with recommended health screenings,” says Dr. William Messer of Prisma Health’s Reedy Family Practice. “For these reasons, it was shocking to have him appear in my office in the very early stages of what turned out to be ALS.”
by springtime they suspected something more serious, something unthinkable—could it be ALS?
It was suggested he get a second opinion. That June, Tim was off to the highly reputable Cleveland Clinic, who also suspected ALS but could not give him a definitive answer and suggested he come back in six months. The problem is ALS doesn’t have six months; it has a mind and schedule of its own. Things quickly worsened, and a month later he was off to see the medical team at Duke University. There, he met with a team of doctors that confirmed the worst and, in a frank and direct manner, explained his life expectancy, then asked if he wanted his parking validated. Not one to give up, Tim visited Johns Hopkins hoping for the best but got more of the same. Next he flew to Holy Cross in Fort Lauderdale in August to take part in a mass general drug trial that actually showed some hopeful signs by temporally reversing some of the symptoms. Temporarily equals a false sense of hope. He tried for another experimental drug therapy at the Mayo Clinic but failed a respiratory test and was excluded from the trial.
By January 2021, he was already confined to a wheelchair and by March paralyzed from the neck down. “Losing the use of your legs and then your arms is a weird sensation,” McKinney explains. “Your brain tells them to move, actually expecting them to move, but nothing happens. It’s like you’re floating with no control.”
Based on U.S. population studies, the ALS Association estimates a little more than 5,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS each year—that’s 15 new cases a day. Every 90 minutes, someone is diagnosed with the disease, and someone dies from it. It’s estimated that at least 16,000 people have the disease at any given time, which equals 16,000 deaths.
An exhilarating life cut short so quickly by an incurable disease is hard to wrap your head around, especially for one who has given so much back to the community. What happens to the many charities, the cats and dogs he’s saved, the hearts he has helped, the ones whose spirits he’s lifted, and the ALS he wants to help cure? What happens when the giving stops?
I’ve tried to live a life of grace, and I want to die with grace. It’s very important how I leave this world.
“I look at ALS as just one of many ways the human body will die. It’s a daily, hourly, by-the-minute reminder that we will all pass one way or another, and sooner or later. Yes, it’s aggravating and unfair,” McKinney says.
For some reason, Tim has a great attitude and a sense of humor that is unexpected—just check out his Facebook page. You will immediately become aware that in situations in life when things look incredibly bleak and you’re walking on thin ice, Tim says, “Screw it—let’s dance.”
“I’ve tried to live a life of grace, and I want to die with grace,” Tim says. “It’s very important how I leave this world.”
tim mckinney tim mckinney tim mckinney tim mckinney tim mckinney tim mckinney