BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. (AP) - Born with a rare genetic disorder and placed in foster care as an infant, Wayne Magee started life with several disadvantages.
Magee said physicians told his foster mother he probably wouldn’t survive his toddler years, and that if he did, he would not fully develop mentally or physically.
Now 34, Magee is the head of the band and honor guard and a leadership training program at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. He doesn’t like to say he proved doctors wrong, but rather that he proved his foster mother - the late Ida Magee - right.
It was to thank Ida, who adopted him when he was 14, along with family, friends and members of his hometown church, that Magee has written his first self-published book, “T.O.U.G.H. Blows: A Lifelong Journey of Defying the Odds.”
“I was surrounded by so many supportive people,” Magee said during an interview at the academy.
A combination memoir and self-help book, “T.O.U.G.H. Blows” is for anyone who has ever felt like quitting when faced with obstacles and challenges, even seemingly insurmountable ones, Magee said.
Magee knows about challenges, having been born with a one-in-a-million genetic skeletal disorder known as cleidocranial dysplasia (CCD). The disorder affects development of the teeth and skull, and Magee was required to wear dentures and a protective helmet for protection during physical activity almost until eighth grade.
Other children picked on him.
“You’re different,” Magee recalls them saying.
Magee’s slim build is emphasized by another CCD characteristic - the lack of a clavicle or collarbone.
Magee recalled the time a neighbor paid him to break into the neighbor’s house through a small opening in the sliding glass door to retrieve the keys locked inside. He laughed and said it’s a good party trick.
Magee found solace and inspiration in music, playing the trumpet and eventually going on to get a Bachelor of Music degree from Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music.
That was after he graduated from Liberty High School in Ohio with honors - a feat in itself, since Magee had spent his school years up through eighth grade in classes for students with learning disabilities, which at that time did not emphasize student achievement.
Magee said that in high school he was able to convince school officials he could master material in mainstream classes. It just took him a bit more time and a different approach.
For instance, Magee figured out that he could learn to spell words by writing them out vertically as well as horizontally.
His learning style most likely was unrelated to CCD, Magee said. The disorder, he said, “actually doesn’t affect learning or mental capacity.”
As a child, Magee also found he enjoyed the regimented structure of groups such as the Boy Scouts. To earn his Eagle Scout badge, he landscaped the area around his hometown church.
He also joined the Warren Junior Military Band, a community youth touring band composed of students from the Midwest.
Magee’s background was a good fit for Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where he started work in 2008 as assistant director of student services and director of the band, honor guard and drill team.
After earning a master’s degree in leadership science in 2013 from Northeastern University, he also took charge of the school’s leadership program, teaching a required sophomore course on leadership and supervising the leadership program for juniors and seniors.
“To be a successful leader you have to be authentic,” Magee said. “You can’t be someone else.”
Magee, who invites business leaders and entrepreneurs to speak to students, said he also emphasizes the importance of being a “servant leader” who helps others achieve.
“I would tell you he is one of the kindest, most compassionate people I have ever met in my life,” said Katherine O’Brien, the academy’s assistant director of admissions who first met Magee as a freshman at the academy. “His door is always open.”
Magee has the gift of being fully present for students while maintaining the professionalism and respect for hierarchy that is part of the academy’s culture, O’Brien said.
“He has this balance of both, which I think is very difficult to find,” she said.
Magee also is a powerful advocate for students in the band and honor guard programs, securing funding for them to travel to parades and events, O’Brien said.
In a blurb for Magee’s book, Rear Adm. Richard Gurnon, the academy’s former president, calls Magee “the best band and honor guard officer Massachusetts Maritime Academy ever had.”
“We are definitely a hard-working program,” Magee said of the band and honor guard, which he said put on more than 100 performances a year.
The cover of “T.O.U.G.H. Blows” features of a photo of Magee holding a trumpet. T.O.U.G.H., in this case, stands for “Be Tenacious. Seek Opportunities. Embrace Unity. Engage Groups. Ask for Help.”
A big part of Magee’s message is to build on strengths, instead of balking at obstacles, by preparing for opportunities and learning from constructive criticism. He said he’s been humbled by the response to the 198-page book, which has included messages of support from readers in the United Kingdom.
“I didn’t think it was going to reach that far,” Magee said.
O’Brien said she wasn’t fully aware of Magee’s struggles growing up until she read his book.
“A lot of people would turn bitter,” she said. “They would be resentful. He takes it and turns it into a strength.”
Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodtimes.com
Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.