On June 1, 1976, Fran McKee became the first woman line officer in American history to be named a rear admiral in the United States Navy. Although McKee was born in Florence, Alabama, her family home was Maury County, Tennessee, where her father, Thomas Walker McKee, was a railroad employee, farmer, and county court magistrate; her mother, Geneva Lumpkins McKee, was a community activist and long-time member of the Maury County (Tennessee) Library Board.
McKee graduated from high school at the age of fifteen, earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from the University of Alabama, and was commissioned an ensign in the navy. Later, she obtained a master of science degree in international affairs from George Washington University and an honorary doctorate in public administration from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy/University.
Throughout her career, Admiral McKee was promoted through the officer ranks and assumed increased levels of responsibility. She was the first woman to serve in many assigned commands. McKee was the senior female navy officer on the Committee to Study Equal Rights for Women, whose findings resulted in widespread changes and opportunities for women in the military. She also served as head of a Naval Security Group Command, chief of Naval Education and Training, and navy-wide director of the Human Resources Management.
Her military awards included the Legion of Merit with Gold Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star. Community honors included the Daughters of the American Revolution Medal of Honor and induction into the Alabama Academy of Honor and the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame; she also had a bridge on U.S. Highway 43 in Maury County named in her memory by the State of Tennessee. Admiral McKee died on March 3, 2002, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.