MSUToday
Published: Feb. 14, 2018

Maurice Cecil Mackey, Jr., MSU's 16th president, dies

Contact(s): Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949 Andy.Henion@cabs.msu.edu, Layne Cameron Media Communications office: (517) 353-8819 cell: (765) 748-4827 Layne.Cameron@cabs.msu.edu

Maurice Cecil Mackey, Jr. (“Cecil”), who served as an official for several federal agencies and president of three major universities, including Michigan State University from 1979 to 1985, died on Feb. 8 at age 89.

Following top-level stints at the University of South Florida and Texas Tech University, Mackey, an Alabama native, came to MSU amid a financial crisis for the state of Michigan and the university.

“Cecil Mackey led MSU during some of its toughest budget years and his training as an economist was fully tested,” Interim MSU President John Engler said. “But he conducted himself with a grace and civility that always left those he encountered amazed at his inner strength. His presence on campus in the classrooms and courtside will be missed. To his wife, Clare, and the Mackey family I offer my sincere condolences upon the passing of a true Spartan.” 

With MSU facing a nearly $30 million budget shortfall in the early 1980s, Mackey had to make unpopular budget cuts across campus, including downsizing the College of Nursing. Mackey initially proposed eliminating the college, but it was saved by an organized political effort that garnered national headlines.

“I was assistant to the president in Cecil Mackey’s early tenure. He came with a lot of experience and was extremely thoughtful and analytic,” former MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon recalled. “During some of the more difficult economic times for the state and the university, he demonstrated great personal courage in his approach to those sometimes-contentious challenges.”

But Mackey also oversaw a time of growth during his six years as MSU president. He started a program for establishing endowed chairs, increased private financial support to the university and opened the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory and other academic and athletic facilities.

Colleagues described Mackey, Michigan State’s 16th president, as a soft-spoken Southern gentleman and a man of principle. An avid runner and tennis player, he and his wife, Clare, remained in East Lansing following his tenure and Mackey continued teaching economics courses at MSU.

Mackey was known for his love and respect for higher education. 

“I think that anybody associated with a university realizes how fortunate you are to be a part of a university in the United States,” he once said. “The freedom and the opportunity that exists in our universities are unparalleled. It’s a privilege.” 

Mackey was born Jan. 23, 1929, in Montgomery, Alabama. His father was a musician and leader of a popular big band. 

Mackey received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Alabama, and a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois. 

In 1953, Mackey married Clare Siewert, a Detroit native who grew up in Chicago and also went to the University of Illinois. The couple had three children: Carol, in 1956; John, in 1966; and Ann, in 1968.

His military service included the Alabama National Guard; the U.S. Army; the U.S. Navy—receiving the “Outstanding Cadet” honor as the top airman in his Naval Air Flight class; and the U.S. Air Force. While on active duty with the U.S. Air Force in 1956, Mackey developed the economics department and was associate professor at the United States Air Force Academy.

In 1957, he was an assistant professor of law at the University of Alabama. A year later, in 1958, he received his law degree from the University of Alabama and was admitted to the Alabama State Bar. Mackey studied post-graduate law at Harvard University until 1959, when he returned to the University of Alabama to be an assistant law professor from 1959 to 1962.

In 1962, Mackey became assistant counsel for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly. In 1963, he became the director of the Office of Policy Development for the Federal Aviation Agency. There, he was in charge of long-range planning and economic research.

In 1965, he became the director of the Office of Transportation Policy for the U.S. Department of Commerce and developed programs and policies for transportation systems. 

In 1967, he became assistant secretary for policy development for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

From 1971 to 1976, Mackey served as president of the University of South Florida. In 1976, he became president of Texas Tech University. 

On Aug. 3, 1979 Mackey was inaugurated as president of MSU. He served until June 30, 1985. He also was a professor of economics.

During his MSU tenure, Mackey showed his commitment to diversity. He selected MSU’s first female vice president and first black vice president. He also appointed minorities and women to many other positions of leadership and oversaw an increase in minority students. 

Simon also noted that Mackey “was a region-changer in the Middle East, as he worked in the United Arab Emirates to open higher education to women.” 

He served on numerous boards and community organizations during his career, including stints as president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and on the Michigan Governor’s Commission on Jobs and Economic Development. 

Cecil is survived by his wife, Clare; daughter Carol Shaffer (Edward) of Dallas, Texas; son John Mackey (Amy Perruso) of Honolulu, Hawaii; daughter Ann Kling (Michael) of Las Vegas, Nevada; and grandchildren Hannah, Albert, and Sophia Mackey, and Lauren and Katherine Kling. He was predeceased by daughter Jane. 

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

The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to either the M. Cecil Mackey Endowed Scholarship in the School of Law at the University of Alabama (University of Alabama Office of Planned Giving, 355 Rose Administration Building, Box 870123, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0123, make check payable to “University of Alabama” and include “M. Cecil Mackey Endowed Scholarship in the School of Law, 19479” on the memo line; (888) 875-4438 or (205) 348-0999 and mention “M. Cecil Mackey Endowed Scholarship in the School of Law, 19479; http://giving.ua.edu/) or Michigan State University College of Music Pavilion Fund (University Development, University Advancement, Spartan Way, 535 Chestnut Road, Room 300, East Lansing, MI 48824, make check payable to “Michigan State University” and include “College of Music Pavilion Fund code: AE06923” on the memo line; (800) 232-4MSU or (517) 884-1000, mention “College of Music Pavilion Fund, AE06923;”

https://givingto.msu.edu/gift/?appeal=18MASWB1WAYS, enter “pavilion” in the search field).