George B. McCeney, a former Baltimore County public schools educator and an accomplished bluegrass musician, died Saturday from Parkinson’s disease at his Timonium home. He was 79.
“George was a career teacher and an outstanding scholar, and gave his students a real appreciation for history,” said Robert Y. Dubel, superintendent of Baltimore County public schools for 16 years before retiring in 1992.
“He never wanted to be promoted. He really wanted to be a teacher and did not aspire to being in administration,” said Dr. Dubel, a Glen Arm resident. “He was also quite a writer.”
George Brennan McCeney was born and raised in Laurel, the son of Dr. Robert Sadler McCeney, a physician, and Lelia Elizabeth Brennan McCeney, a homemaker.
After graduating in 1956 from the Landon School in Bethesda, he received a bachelor’s degree in 1960 from Yale University, where he played varsity football.
Mr. McCeney obtained a master’s degree in history in 1964from the University of Maryland, College Park. He lived abroad in Turkey and Egypt before starting his teaching career in 1966 in Baltimore County public schools.
He taught social studies for two decades at the old Cockeysville High School, then joined the faculty at Dulaney High School in 1983, teaching ninth- and 12th-grade students. He retired in 1993.
He met his future wife, the former Natalie Dixon, a Towson legal aid attorney, at a party in 1976. They married two years later.
Mr. McCeney was a lifelong bluegrass musician, writer and fan. While at Yale, he co-founded a college bluegrass band in 1958. He was also a co-founder in 1966 of the publication Bluegrass Unlimited, and wrote reviews.
“Bluegrass Unlimited is considered the bible of the bluegrass community, and George was an important member of that community,” said Katy Daley, a retired WAMU-FM bluegrass disc jockey and longtime friend.
Mr. McCeney’s instrument of choice was his 1960 Martin D-28 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar. It’s touted on the Martin & Co. website as a “favorite of bluegrass artists from Hank Williams Sr. to Jimmy Page.”
Mr. McCeney served as a trustee and was a member of the board of the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Ky., and was a lifetime member of the International Bluegrass Music Association, which is headquartered in Nashville.
He was also a 2004 Leadership Bluegrass graduate and served as chairman of the Leadership Bluegrass Alumni Planning Committee.
“As a singer and songwriter, George cared not only about the past but the future of bluegrass music,” said Ms. Daley, a Washington resident. “He loved bluegrass and he loved the audience participation. He was not just content to sit on the sidelines. He got in there because he wanted to make the music better.”
She described Mr. McCeney as a friendly, outgoing individual.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a kinder, warmer or gentler person than George. He had a certain spirituality about him,” she said. “He was always smiling and believed in the Golden Rule. He was a friend to all.”
Family members recalled that one of Mr. McCeney’s favorite memories was helping to build a bathroom in 1962 for bluegrass, folk, country and gospel legend Arthel Lane Watson, better known as “Doc” Watson.
They said Mr. McCeney told them: “The quid pro quo was that Doc would play for us for two days.”
“He would regale family and friends with stories encountering Elvis Presley, playing with Jerry Garcia and meeting Bob Dylan and Blaze Starr,” said his daughter, Mary McCeney Nelson, of Washington.
When he was in his 20s and 30s, Mr. McCeney enjoyed riding BMW motorcycles, “but he stopped doing that after he married my mom,” Ms. Nelson said.
He was a stamp collector and an avid reader of history and novels.
He was an active communicant of the Roman Catholic community of St. Francis Xavier in Hunt Valley.
“The Catholic church was an important part of his life and he volunteered weekly at Viva House, a soup kitchen,” his daughter said. “That became a big part of his life after he retired.”
The former Glencoe resident moved to Timonium four years ago.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 13 at his church, 13717 Cuba Road, Cockeysville.
In addition to his wife of 40 years and daughter, Mr. McCeney is survived by a son, James Dixon McCeney of Napa, Calif.; and two grandchildren.