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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Genealogist Rod MacKenzie Remembered at Fairfield Museum

Genealogist Rod MacKenzie Remembered at Fairfield Museum
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – The weather forecast for the day was overcast and rainy, but Walt Matis’ prediction about the tribute service for genealogist Rod MacKenzie couldn’t have been clearer. “At the end of the day, I think what you’re going to see is the mark of a man,” said Matis, at the start of the ceremony.

A program coordinator and colleague of MacKenzie’s at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, Matis and over 100 other co-workers, friends and family gathered in the lobby area of the 370 Beach Road facility late Wednesday morning to remember the lifelong Fairfielder. The tribute followed an 11:00 a.m. graveside service, handled by the Shaughnessey Banks Funeral Home, at Oak Lawn Cemetery.

MacKenzie, age 75, died on Friday, December 9, after a long battle with cancer. He was a genealogist and researcher at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, as well as Pequot Library, for over thirty years.

After signing a family guest book at the reception desk and partaking in a catered lunch, tribute attendees recalled the beloved man.

Pequot Children’s Librarian Susan Ei said, “It’s such a big loss. He was such a gentleman, and pleasure to be around. He went out of his way to say hello to every staff member every morning. He was also the doorway and navigator of our genealogical collection. He wasn’t someone who was ready to check out at all, and was very private about his sickness.”

Ei’s associate, Robin Valovich, said, “He personified courage, nothing got him down. He had a very positive attitude and will be sorely missed.”

Pequot Library’s Executive Director Dan Snydacker agreed with Valovich. “He had a wonderful positive presence and a kind word for everybody. I’ll miss him dearly. The books and collection will miss him and are calling to him,” he said.

Historian Bill Lee shared a number of connections with MacKenzie. “When I was director of the Historic Civic Center, Rod’s mom was on my commission,” he said. “I went to school with his mother’s sister and knew his grandfather, Judge Bent, too. One of his family married my cousin Peggy Lee. The last time I saw Rod was four weeks ago. I brought him a photo of his mom and me taken in the Sun Tavern. We spent an hour and a half talking, a wonderful last connection. He was very dedicated to the Fairfield Historical Society.”

Museum Executive Director Michael Jehle, standing atop a chair, said, “Rod in many ways was the spirit of the museum, and was passionate about what he did. He loved people coming here and connecting them with their stories. Over all those years, he was able to connect so many. He had a wonderful gift and is irreplaceable. Museums and libraries are repositories of books, but people bring them to life. Rod was a portal to our past in so many ways.”

MacKenzie’s sister Laura remembered other sides of the man. “As a kid, he would take his wagon around and sell seeds,” she smiled. “When he was in the hospital and given a walker, he said jokingly, ‘I hope I don’t get a speeding ticket with this thing.’ At the end, he said the hardest part of all was going to be telling Mike (Jehle) that he couldn’t work anymore.”

Perhaps the most touching words came from Jennifer Bebon Grascher, MacKenzie’s next door neighbor on Unquowa Road for 19 years. “Rod was our neighborhood anchor, our ‘steady Eddie’,” she said. “He never missed my children’s birthdays, and always wanted to know how we were doing. He may have been a keeper of history, but he embraced the future.”

Quoting a line from a Broadway show, Grascher added, “Because we knew you, we have been changed for the better.”

Rod’s wish was for donations to be made to the Fairfield Museum and History Center or to the Pequot Library.

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