Marjorie Mackey, a former Atascadero City Council member and ardent lover of her city’s oaks, streams and history, died at her home May 22. She was 88.
Known as a straight shooter who spoke her mind, Mackey was also widely admired for her self-effacing sense of humor, which came to the fore whenever she might absent-mindedly misplace her keys or other items.
Born in Lewiston, Mont., Marj (as she preferred to be called) moved to Atascadero in 1961 with husband John and children Candy, John and Dean. In short order, she was involved in Girl Scouts as a troop leader and president of the Lewis Avenue Elementary School PTA.
Around that time, she also started working for the county library system and the county elections office as a registrar.
As an outspoken advocate for Atascadero’s rural ambience who was aligned in the slow-growth camp, she helped found the Atascadero Historical Society in 1965 after the colony home of the community’s founder, E.G. Lewis, was torn down.
“She was real instrumental in getting The Printery and Administration Rotunda named as historical landmarks,” said Historical Society President Jim Wilkins, whose father, Bob, served on the city’s first council with Mackey.
By 1968, Mackey was involved in public service as a member of the county advisory council that was drawing up the then-unincorporated town’s general plan.
That platform of 11 years of service — as well as the thousands of voters she registered — gave her a high-enough profile to win a council seat in 1979 after the community opted to become an incorporated city.
She would eventually serve 11 years on the council, two of those as mayor, and take a measure of pride in the fact that she never spent more than $500 on a run for office, didn’t take campaign contributions and never bought an election ad.
“It’s a terrible thing when money can get the job — City Council or federal,” she told a reporter in 1995. “It should go to someone who has proven himself or herself in the community.”
Her time on the council was marked by a couple of characteristics: Her colleagues always knew where she stood on an issue, and although they may not have agreed with her stances, she was highly respected.
“I was on the Planning Commission for the last two years she was on the council,” said former mayor and councilman George Luna, “and I found we agreed on history and the natural environment. She was really a kindred spirit. She was a real lady.”
“She was very fair in her dealings,” said Lon Allan, who, as the editor of Atascadero News, knew her personally and professionally for more than 40 years. He once called her a “fuzzy-minded environmentalist.”
“She was as liberal and to the left philosophically as you could be,” Allan said, adding, “She never let that rule her judgment on projects. And she never carried a grudge: once the vote was taken, it was on to other topics and issues.”
To call her a tree-hugger was an honorific to Mackey. She helped found the Atascadero Native Tree Association, which was the seed for the Atascadero Land Preservation Society, and pushed for tough city tree ordinances, creek setbacks and open space — issues that still simmer within the community.
In later years, she firmly affixed her sights on Stadium Park, a 26-acre parcel that features hillsides, oaks and a natural amphitheater.
Created in 1915 by Lewis as the spiritual center of the colony, the community’s first Christian church, the Atascadero Community Church, held services in the park.
The city bought the park 30 years later, but is in a quandary as to what to do with it. For Mackey, one option was simple: plant more oaks.
She led groups and individuals in planting and watering the striplings, using milk jugs as their watering cans. The month before she died, she founded the Friends of Stadium Park while bedridden.
Mackey is survived by her sister and brother-in-law, Nancy and Fred Wagner; her children and their spouses: Candy and Jim Hood, John and Rosann Mackey, and Dean and Larry Young; eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is set for Friday at 10:30 a.m. at the Community Church of Atascadero United Church of Christ, 5850 Rosario Ave.
Contributions in Marj Mackey’s memory may be made to the Friends of Stadium Park, P.O. Box 940, Atascadero, CA 93423; Atascadero Historical Society, 6600 Lewis Ave., Atascadero, CA 93422; or Atascadero Land Preservation Society, P.O. Box 940, Atascadero, CA 93423.