The news stunned Progress Energy (NYSE: PGN) where he had been CEO since March 2004 and chairman since May 2004. He joined the company in 1997.
He underwent surgery Sunday at Charing Cross Hospital but did not regain consciousness, the company said in a statement.
Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker called McGehee "a quiet, thoughtful leader who applied his intelligence and insight to strengthening Progress Energy."
"He cared very much about the development of downtown, that' we'd really have the economic strength there. He was most interested in the cultural side," Meeker said.
McGehee was instrumental in building a new headquarters building for Progress Energy downtown and for the company's $5.6 million sponsorship of the Performing Arts Center.
Meeker said he would sit down with McGehee at quarterly meetings to discuss downtown's renaissance.
"He would talk about how much he enjoyed the improved Fayetteville Street, that that was just a complete turnaround from where it had been a couple years ago," the mayor said.
"He's given back so much to North Carolina, especially the Triangle," Gov. Mike Easley said. "He'll be known as a gentleman who did things the right way and still made it to the top and was loved the whole time. That's a pretty good legacy."
William Johnson, Progress Energy's president and chief operating officer, assumed McGehee’s responsibilities on Monday.
McGehee is survived by his wife, Jolene; his father; one brother; four children; and two grandchildren.
Hughes said McGehee would be remembered as someone who took care of the little things as well as the big picture.
"One of the first handwritten letters that I received when I returned from my father's funeral was from Bob," Hughes said. "(He was) a genuinely decent, generous man, a true Southern gentleman. (He will be) sorely, sorely missed."