From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 8 - May 17, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Pinedale attorney passes away at 89

by Trey Wilkinson

As we near the end of our lives we’re fortunate if we’re still able to partake in the things we love. On May 6, Pinedale resident and long time attorney John Mackey, 89, passed away, and while his passing saddened many, his family found comfort in the fact that he died doing what he loved – practicing law – something that was a part of his life for 60 years.

“I of course was very saddened to hear of Mr. Mackey’s death,” Pinedale Mayor Steve Smith said. “John was a good friend of the Town and I always appreciated his words of advice. I will miss his words of wisdom and his knowledge. Pinedale, indeed this entire community has lost a very good man.”

Mackey, the oldest practicing attorney in the state, was born on Dec. 6, 1917, in Omaha, Neb., the son of Elsie and Clarence Mackey; he was the fifth of six children.

Raised in Ansley, Neb, he participated in band, football and a summer Civilian Military Training (CMT) unit before graduating from Ansley High School in 1936. John’s father was a banker in Ansley and his mother was a music teacher for grades 1-12 in the Ansley school system, perhaps a reason John developed his passion for the trumpet, an instrument he played for years to come.

John first attended college in Kearney, Neb., and spent two summers during those years as a fireguard in Yellowstone Park. A life-long Cornhusker fan, he attended the University of Nebraska for several years. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, John left the university in January of 1942 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps.

It was during his stint in World War II when John met Sally Hill of Laramie.

“He was a pilot in Alaska and I was a civilian working for the Army Engineer’s Corps at Fort Richardson,” John’s wife Sally said. “Six of us women shared an apartment and we’d have parties when the soldiers came through. John was one of the soldiers that came through in November of 1942. I met him briefly.”

After the brief acquaintance, John was assigned to the Aleutian Islands where he was stationed until January of 1944.

“When John was being rotated back to the states he stopped through and we became more acquainted,” Sally said.

The couple became engaged and married on March 2, 1944, in Laramie.

After returning to the states, John was assigned to the Night Fighters and did six months training in the 4th Air Force before becoming an instructor at Hammer Field in California. John was set to go to the South Pacific with the Night Fighters but the war ended just before his scheduled trip. He was discharged from the service in the summer of 1946 after spending a year flying planes from California back to the bases where they were to be decommissioned.

“He was quite a P38 pilot from what I understand,” said Paul Hagenstein, a long-time friend of John’s and Pinedale resident. “He had a lot of fun with his flying.”

After his time spent in the service, John began his long, illustrious law career. He and his family (daughter Susie was born while John was stationed in Hammer Field) moved to Laramie where John attended the University of Wyoming on the GI Bill graduating in 1948 and stayed in Laramie to practice in the firm Corthell and King for a year. His son Steve was born in Laramie in 1946 and daughter Molly in 1949.

Thanks to some direction from a district judge, John and Sally set out on their own in 1950 looking for opportunities in the Pinedale area. Pinedale appealed to the couple because of the “clear, sparkling waters of Fremont Lake, with the beautiful mountains in the background and all of the camping, fishing and hunting possibilities,” Sally said. “We came to Pinedale at absolutely the right time.”

In 1950 John ran for county attorney and served that position for nearly 20 years. He was also elected to the city council. He served as the attorney for the school board and the town council in addition to his private practice as well.

As a new resident of Pinedale, John relied on a number of people for political advice. He was a Democrat in his younger years and admired Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. Joseph C. O’Mahoney after meeting him at the Chris Berg home in Boulder.

“I worked with John on a lot of projects when he was the county attorney and I was a county commissioner,” Hagenstein said. “He’s always been a very community-minded gentleman and he was a good man to work with. John was very straight forward, and he always looked out for the welfare of the town of Pinedale and Sublette County.”

John’s first law office was located above the old Pinedale Drug store; he moved it several times before finally building the office on Main Street in 1968. John shared the office with his business partner and real estate developer Larry Looney for several years.

An early mentor to John was Jim Harrower, who taught him about Pinedale politics when Harrower was the mayor and John was on the town council. Later John teamed with Bob Harrower, Jim’s son, to address issues concerning the town.

John was no stranger to Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service officials and did not hesitate to share his views with them. Recently, he and others voiced concerns regarding water rights and subdivision development. He was worried about the impact on this area due to gas development.

“In addition to keeping up his practice, his focus most recently was as a private citizen who strongly urged the town fathers and officials to protect Pinedale’s water rights during the current land development boom and growth of subdivisions,” Steve said. “He wanted to ensure that water users outside the town limits paid their full share for town water so that current residents would not have their water rates increase.”

Local politics weren’t John’s only interest, as he was just as actively involved in state and national politics – even more so when email became a part of his life.

“In the ‘80s he (John) learned about computers and began emailing,” Sally said. “He had some great emails. He kept in constant touch with his grandchildren through email.”

“When he started emailing he went ‘global,’” his daughter Susie Riske said. “He wouldn’t hesitate to tell you how he felt.”

In April 1998 John was honored in the Wyoming State Bar magazine, Wyoming Lawyer, in the feature, “Proud to Be a Wyoming Lawyer,” by fellow Pinedale attorney, the late Gerald Mason.

According to Sally, John was strongly opposed to the current war in Iraq, as well as the Vietnam War.

“He felt both of the wars were very unconstitutional,” she said. “But he was very patriotic.”

John was also an avid reader.

“He subscribed widely to magazines and newspapers,” Sally said. “Our house was full of them. Newspapers were a real part of his life. I’d have black ink fingerprints all over the house.”

Sally also said John was in constant touch with the library to find out when new books came out. A couple of major issues John followed included the war in Iraq and national debt.

“When practically every book on the war in Iraq would come out John would call the library to make sure they ordered it,” she said.

Riske said she always thought of her dad as the watchdog of everyone from town council members to state officials to presidents and loved his passion for holding them accountable to laws, policies and ordinances.

“At times, Pinedale politics looked like a blood sport to those of use on the outside,” she said. “But I have always admired the way Pinedale citizens take the time to affect the future by speaking out at many forums while doing the hard work on committees and commissions. I know Dad thrived on the exchange of ideas always taking place.”

While work was a very important part of John’s life, he also made time to laugh and have fun, as Riske attests.

“He definitely had a warm and fuzzy side,” she said.

“He had a real sense of humor,” Sally agreed.

Riske recalled memories of growing up and said she doesn’t remember ever sitting around in the house on the weekends.

“We ended up outside all the time – hiking, fishing, camping, skiing,” she said. “I think he wanted to be sure we appreciated the great outdoors, and the great thing was we never felt forced to do it.”

The love for the outdoors has been passed on through the generations, as Riske spoke of her grandchildren, Tyler and Rayden Riske, spending time with their great-grandfather outdoors.

“I’d bring my two grandchildren up from Canon City, Colo., and Great-grandpa would take them to the mountains hiking near Skyline from Elkhardt,” she said. “I remember he named one of the rocks up there ‘Tyler Rock.’ Every time Tyler knew he was going to visit his great-grandpa he’d tell me he needed hiking shoes for ‘Tyler Rock.’”

According to Sally, John didn’t travel much, but with the beauty in this area, why would he need to?

“He didn’t travel outside the county much,” she said. “But he explored this area constantly. There was always plenty to do right here. We had new and favorite spots.”

John was active with numerous organizations and hobbies, including being a member of the Lions Club, one of Madge Funk’s Camp Fire Fathers and the Boat Club. He was also a volunteer fireman and participated in some of the search and rescue missions in the ‘50s.

One of John’s hobbies included playing the trumpet, which he played along with Paul Hanson and others who played the saxophone at downtown establishments on Saturday nights. He joined Doc Johnston, Hammer Reed, Paul Hagenstein and the Mad Hatters (Betty Hagenstein, Donna Seivers and Miriam Kerback) for other jazz sessions.

“We had a lot fun with our jam sessions,” Paul Hagenstein said. “John really loved jazz music.”

On the last morning of his life, Sally said John got up at the regular time, shaved and showered in preparation to attend the funeral of a friend that afternoon, ate breakfast, chopped wood and built a fire before heading to his office.

One of Sally’s favorite memories is a recent one that includes John’s favorite daily activity.

“Every fall we’d go out and get wood so John could split wood for the fireplace,” she said. “The last two or three years we were unable to get wood. John was all out of sorts because of that. This year we had some unsawed logs dumped into the yard so he could split the wood. It was one of the best years of his life because he could use his chainsaw and split wood for the fireplace. It really made this last year special.”

Once at the office on May 6, John read his email and headed down to Faler’s store, where he discussed city ordinances with a friend. Back at the office, John spent his last minutes on this earth doing what he loved.

“It was sudden,” Sally said. “But the blessing was that he was doing what he wanted.”

“He got up everyday with a real purpose,” Riske said. “He went to the office that morning and he died, but he still isn’t finished with his work,” Riske said.

John is survived by Sally, Susie and husband Don Riske of Cheyenne, Steve and his wife Marilyn Mackey of Pinedale, Molly and her husband Ken Olson of Hays, Kan.; grandchildren Megan Cormier and her husband Jason, Dylan Riske and his wife Kezia, Julie, Jenny (and her fiancé Aaron Vincent), and Bonnie Macky, and Ingrid Olson; great-grandchildren Tyler Hearn, Rayden Riske, Annie Vincent and Reilly Cormier; his sister Louise Brush and her husband John of Omaha, Neb.; a nephew Joh Platz of Sidney, Neb., and many others.

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