Students, faculty gather to celebrate dean of students’ life

By Kimberly Wethal

Nov. 18, 2015

 

Warhawk Marching Band director Glenn Hayes never wears his purple sportcoat away from the football field, but he broke his own rule last week for Mary Beth Mackin.

“I believe our friend would approve and smile,” Hayes wrote in a note that Chancellor Beverly Kopper read off while introducing his speech during the celebration of life for Mackin.

In a sea of purple clothing, dozens of students, faculty, staff, friends and family of Mackin filled the Timmermann Auditorium on Nov. 11 to celebrate the life of UW-Whitewater’s dean of students.

Mackin died unexpectedly on Sat., Nov. 7 of natural causes due to a medical condition, Rock County Medical Examiner Barry Irmen told the Janesville Gazette in an article published last week.

Mackin was hired as a residence hall director in 1988, and through the years, worked her way to the position of assistant dean of students and, eventually, the dean of students.

Mackin was a “dedicated and passionate Warhawk” from the beginning, Kopper said during the opening remarks.

“I know there are many of you in this room that said to Mary Beth, ‘Mary Beth, when you retire, I’m retiring too because I cannot imagine doing my job without you,’” Kopper said. “She loved UW-Whitewater deeply and was always so proud of all we accomplished, and of course, never took any of the credit in the process.”

While Kopper said she will miss seeing Mackin’s Warhawk emblem-clad white spider motorcycle as she parks her car in the lot next to Hyer Hall every morning, she will miss Mackin’s smile even more.

Numerous students and faculty members took turns at the microphone, some holding back tears as they shared what Mackin’s role in their lives meant to them.

Senior Robert Emmett and Graduate Student Stephanie Abbott spoke about how Mackin had helped them shape their college careers.

Emmett met with Mackin on a regular basis as a part of his job as Student Affairs Director for Whitewater Student Government (WSG) last year.

“She really wanted to see all of the good that students were looking to accomplish,” Emmett said. “Throughout those meetings I shared ideas, thoughts and my work with Mary Beth, and she was always so supportive and willing to offer feedback that I had perhaps not yet considered.”

Faculty members who spoke in Mackin’s memory did so not only in remembrance of who she was to them, but also what she did for their students.

“Whether you were joyously moving to the “Warhawk Strut,” which I know she loved, or you were going through your own personal hell, she would be there with you, side by side,” Hayes said. “I cannot recount the number of students I sent to her over the years … I sent her young people who had lost their way, students who were troubled, students who were afraid, students who had been violated. Although I cannot remember the number I sent to her for assistance, I do know this: the result was always the same.

“The student received the nurturing guidance, the straightening-out talk, the helping hand, whatever any particular student might need to get them back to work,” Hays said. “To be honest, she was my Hail-Mary Beth. No matter what the situation I threw to her, she always caught the student before they hit bottom.”

Others said that the little things she did for them would be carried with them for years.

Elizabeth Watson, Center for Students with Disabilities director, said Mackin had a “passion for elegant writing utensils,” and was always scouting out her next purple pen.

It’s why Watson felt so honored to be given a purple pen by Mackin before her death.

“While it was a kind gesture on her part, it made me feel honored and trusted,” Watson said. “This pen holds as much importance to me as any academic or professional achievement in life … as I’ve been looking at my purple pen these past few days, as it’s been with me constantly, I feel Mary Beth: elegant, poised, balanced, constant.”

Giving students a voice

Abbott was shy and quiet when she first arrived at UW-W as a freshman, she said.

She met Mackin on her first day of classes after being hired to work in her office, and with no receptionist to give her the run-down of her new job, Mackin had pulled up a chair to help her, Abbott said.

It was also Mackin who helped her out of her comfort zone by pushing her to get further involved, and who saw WSG as the perfect organization for Abbott to join.

It was her time on WSG where Abbott found the courage to share her ideas, she said, as she credited much of her success to Mackin’s years of guidance.

“If she hadn’t helped me find my voice, I wouldn’t be here at this microphone, able to hold back my own tears as best I can, to share with all of you what a beautiful soul we lost,” Abbott said.

Mackin was also one of the first adults then-freshman Abbott had told her dream of someday being the governor of Wisconsin to who hadn’t laughed it off or treated it like a “silly fantasy.”

“It was an answer I had repeated a hundred times to every adult I’d encountered before, but it was because of her reaction,” Abbott said. “Most adults smiled or laughed, suggesting it was ‘cute’ that I would imagine such a career.

“Dean Mackin, though, her face broke into a huge smile, and she said simply, ‘Well then, Ms. Abbott, I have a feeling you’re going to do just that,’” she said.

Both Abbott and Emmett experienced a level of genuineness from Mackin that they didn’t see from any other administrator in the same way, as she checked up on them and their lives whenever she saw them.

“She made sure that every time we got together, she checked in on me personally,” Emmett said. “Throughout my time at UW-Whitewater, I’ve been a business owner in Milwaukee and full-time – and admittedly over-involved – student. Mary Beth always showed so much concern for how I was managing the balancing act that has been my life for past four years.”

A family left behind

Mackin’s life partner Susan Read found the celebration of life to be “overwhelming,” she said.

It was overwhelming in a good way, Read said, because speaking to a full auditorium demonstrated how much people cared for Mackin.

Read said she and Mackin would come home at night and share what their days had been like, starting with the rough spots first, and saving the positive aspects for last.

Read said she never had much negative news to share.

“Honestly, it was pretty rare that she had a rough spot,” Read said. “We did a lot of positive talking about our jobs and the people that we worked with.”

Mackin leaves behind Read and their two “canine children,” Zoe and Moses, along with many family members and friends.

Many of her family members were in attendance at the celebration of life ceremony, including her father Robert and other siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews.

While Mackin doesn’t leave biological children behind, she leaves behind countless “kids” who walked throughout UW-W’s campus for decades.

“You were her children,” Read said. “She would call you her kids.”

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