Norbert J. McGettigan, 93, decorated World War II veteran and Philly travel business owner

Norbert Joseph McGettigan, 93, formerly of Bala Cynwyd, a decorated World War II veteran and travel agent who handled trip plans for VIPs such as Princess Grace of Monaco, died July 31 of respiratory failure at Abington Jefferson Hospital.

Mr. McGettigan was born in Highland Park, Upper Darby, into a family that ran a travel agency, and he followed suit. In 1930, his father, John McGettigan, started the McGettigan Travel Bureau, which booked passage on Cunard ocean liners for Irish immigrants bound for America.

With the advent of World War II, the elder McGettigan was forced to shut down the agency because steam ships were commandeered by the U.S. Army for troop transport.

During the war, the younger Mr. McGettigan saw heavy fighting with the Army’s 106th and 69th Infantry Divisions. He was at the Battle of the Bulge, and was honored with the Bronze Star Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars.

The Bronze Star was for “exemplary conduct in ground combat against the armed enemy on or about 28 February 1945 in the European Theater,” the award letter said. He was honorably discharged in November 1947.

After the war, Mr. McGettigan reopened McGettigan Travel Bureau with a $700 investment at 33rd and Chestnut Streets in West Philadelphia. The travel industry was just getting started. The first year he made $10,000, he told the Inquirer in 2002.

In 1951, he married Margaret Maloney, who helped him expand the business. The couple had six children. She died of kidney failure in 1974.

While escorting a tour group to Bermuda in 1976, he met Doreen Straus, an Oregon resident who was working as a director of an overseas oil company. They married in 1977. She helped with the children and became an agent for McGettigan Travel.

As a young man, Mr. McGettigan had rowed with the Vesper Boat Club and knew club president John B. Kelly Sr. That became important in 1956, when Kelly’s daughter, Grace, married Prince Rainier of Monaco; Mr. McGettigan arranged steamship transportation for 242 wedding guests from Philadelphia.

“We got a lot of publicity,” Mr. McGettigan told the Inquirer.

A prominent Catholic layman, Mr. McGettigan and his agency made many travel arrangements for officials of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to participate in major events at the Vatican.

The events included the elevations to cardinal of John O’Hara and Anthony Bevilacqua, the canonization of St. John Neumann, and the beatification and canonization of Mother Katharine Drexel.

McGettigan’s Travel evolved into McGettigan Partners, a worldwide travel management organization with 500 employees.

“What a kind, wonderful man he was,”  Bonnie Tjaden Steelman posted online Aug. 2. “I worked for the McGettigans back in the 1990s. To this day, I tell people it was the best job I ever had.”

“He helped anybody from the janitor up to the highest person, with a job or a reference, whatever he could do,” his wife Doreen said.

In November 2001, the family sold the travel business to friendly competitor Maritz Inc. Asked whether he had any regrets, he said: “None, whatsoever. The price was right, and the time was right. We’re very, very happy to be associated with Maritz.”

Mr. McGettigan was active in professional and civic organizations. He was a president of the Walnut Street Businessmen’s Association, and a board member of the Ronald McDonald House and Better Business Bureau.

He served on the boards of the Union League of Philadelphia, St. Ignatius Nursing & Rehab, the Berean Institute, Hero Scholarship Fund, and the Clover Club of Philadelphia.  He was also a member of many Catholic service organizations.

In 1994, he was given the Annual Barry Award by the American Catholic Historical Society for distinguished service to church and community. He was an honoree at the Fifth Annual CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) Hall of Fame Banquet in 1998 and was made a Knight of the Order of Pope St. Sylvester.

Of all the places he enjoyed visiting, his favorite was Ocean City, N.J., where he spent time with his wife and children. “He loved cruising and being near the water,” his wife said.

In addition to his wife Doreen, he is survived by children Marianne Kehan, Maureen Wade, Alice Barr, Suzanne Kelly, Margaret Murphy, and Norbert J. McGettigan, Jr.; 15 grandchildren; and a great-grandchild. Three brothers and three sisters died earlier.

A viewing from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7, at St. Rose of Lima Church, 428 S. Main St., North  Wales, will be followed by a second viewing from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8, at the church. A Funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. Entombment is private.

Memorial donations may be made to St. Ignatius Nursing & Rehab, Development Department, 4401 Haverford Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19104.