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USF's Second President, Cecil Mackey, Dies at 89

Photo courtesy of USF Libraries Special Collections

Maurice Cecil Mackey, Jr., PhD, the second president of the University of South Florida, died last week at the age of 89.


“We were saddened to learn of President Mackey’s passing, and extend our condolences to his family,” USF President Judy Genshaft said. “Our trajectory as a research institution really began during his presidency starting in 1971. Dr. Mackey recognized the need for USF to become a vibrant urban research university serving the Tampa Bay region. He was a transformational figure in the development of the University of South Florida.”


Mackey, who served as president from 1971-1976, came to USF at a crucial time in the university’s history. In a 2004 interview for USF’s Historical Archives, Mackey said a number of things attracted him to the university, including the fact that USF was the first university to be created in the 20th century.


“There was an opportunity to do something in leadership and development of an institution – that type of work had always appealed to me,” said Mackey. “The chance to come here with a new institution and try to make it the best possible… was a very attractive opportunity.”


Photo courtesy of USF Libraries Special Collections

His arrival to USF launched an era of increased focus on research and funding, and coincided with the opening of the medical school, now the Morsani College of Medicine.


During his tenure, Mackey strengthened graduate studies at USF and helped guide the development of the university’s first PhD program in marine sciences. He also fundamentally changed the structure of the institution, dissolving two colleges and creating four new ones: College of Arts & Letters, Social & Behavioral Sciences, Natural Sciences and Fine Arts, which have all since been renamed.


Mackey oversaw a period of significant growth at USF. In 1973, the School of Nursing opened. In 1974, two new branch campuses, Sarasota-Manatee and Fort Myers joined the USF System (the Fort Myers campus closed its doors in 1997, later becoming Florida Gulf Coast University). At the same time, Mackey also provided additional support and resources for the St. Petersburg campus as a way to help it continue to grow. Along with increasing access to higher education, Mackey also believed that the university needed to have these campuses in other congressional districts as a way to build stronger relationships with various state representatives.


“We had a deliberate, calculated, understood reason for being wherever we were: Bradenton and Ft. Myers, and for strengthening St. Petersburg,” said Mackey. “We took education to people.”


While he was responsible for many transformative projects at USF, Mackey also kept his focus on students, continuing to teach while he was an administrator. In fact, he held seminars in economics across the hall from his presidential office – a clear illustration of his respect and passion for education.


“I think for anybody associated with the university... realize how fortunate you are to be a part of a university in the United States,” said Mackey during his oral history interview for USF. “The freedom and the opportunity that exists in our universities [is] absolutely unparalleled... it’s a privilege.”


Born in 1929 in Montgomery, Alabama, Mackey received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economics from the University of Alabama. He went on to receive a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois, where he was also an assistant professor. Mackey received his law degree from Alabama and later became an assistant professor there.


His military service included the Alabama National Guard, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force. While on active duty with the U.S. Air Force, Mackey developed the economics department at the U.S. Air Force Academy.


Before becoming a university administrator, Mackey spent several years with the federal government. He held a variety of positions including assistant counsel for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly and director of the Office of Transportation Policy for the U.S. Department of Commerce. In 1967, he helped establish the Department of Transportation, and was named its first assistant secretary for policy development.


In 1969, Mackey was selected as executive vice president and professor of law at Florida State University. In 1971, he became president of USF. Following his time in Tampa Bay, Mackey became president of Texas Tech University (’76-’79) and Michigan State University (’79-’85). He continued teaching economics at Michigan State until his death.


Mackey is survived by his wife of 64 years, Clare, daughters Carol and Ann, son John and five grandchildren.


Memorial services will be scheduled at a later date in Deerfield Beach, Fla. and East Lansing, Mich. Burial will be scheduled at a later date at Arlington National Cemetery.

To read the family obituary, click here.

Story by Aaron Hilf, University Communications & Marketing

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