David Francis McKell, a veteran Suffolk County law enforcement official who filled much of his retirement pursuing acting roles that included an appearance as an extra on the TV show “Law & Order,” died March 6.
The Huntington Station resident and father of six succumbed to kidney failure at age 88, according to his daughter Deirdre McKell-Nardelli.
McKell’s family said he was born on April 25, 1928, and grew up in Brooklyn as the oldest of four siblings, attended public high school in Queens, served four years in the Navy starting in 1944, and worked for the Long Island Rail Road before becoming a New York State trooper.
McKell was a state trooper before joining the Suffolk County Police Department when it formed in 1960 and rising to the rank of detective lieutenant, authorities said. He retired in 1972, and dabbled in politics a year later with an unsuccessful run as a Democrat for Suffolk sheriff.
Starting later in the 1970s, McKell also worked as an investigator for Suffolk’s Legal Aid Society for more than a decade before retiring again, an agency official said.
His interest in the arts included writing poetry. McKell-Nardelli, 49, who also lives in Huntington Station, said her father shared his original works with the publication Our Town in St. James.
The monthly newspaper’s associate editor, Robin Clark, said the publication regularly printed McKell’s verses.
But while indulging his artistic side, McKell’s role as a public servant wasn’t over after he left Legal Aid. Starting in his 70s, he also spent a dozen years as a security guard at the Suffolk district attorney’s office.
Politics popped back into McKell’s life in 2011 when a brouhaha broke out over his paid acting gig at the historic St. James General Store, where he’d played Santa Claus during the holidays for years.
Then-Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy cited budget issues and canceled McKell’s $660 contract to play Santa at the county-operated store, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Santa sacking attracted national attention and Steve Bellone, then a county executive candidate, wrote McKell a personal check and he kept playing the role.
McKell’s wife, Mary, 80, whom he married in Shoreham in 1963, said Santa was probably her husband’s favorite acting role. Karen Sheedy, the store’s manager, said when McKell put on his Santa costume, he was “the personification of jolly.”
McKell also was active in community theater after a law enforcement career that included multiple homicide investigations — “around the clock” kind of work he “liked the challenge of,” his wife said.
In retirement, McKell also played an extra in the films “The Peacemaker,” starring Nicole Kidman and George Clooney, and in “The First Wives Club” — getting to “hobnob” with star Bette Midler during the filming of that movie, Mary McKell said.
“He had a very Capra-esque existence,” she said. “He just did so many things that he loved.”
In addition to his wife and daughter, McKell is also survived by his children David, Margaret Bayley and Susan Vaughan, all of Huntington Station; Timothy of Massapequa; Anne Barrett of Leesburg, Virginia; and nine grandchildren.
A funeral service was held March 10 at St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church in Huntington Station, followed by burial at Calverton National Cemetery.