John Mackey was a lawyer’s lawyer, the kind of professional other attorneys admired and posed questions to when uncertain about a legal point or a course of action.
Mackey also was a singer, gifted with a soaring voice he readily shared and leaving more than one friend to wonder who is going to sing at his funeral after he sang for so many others.
In between, he was a hometown boy who went away to school and earned his juris doctorate from the University of Oklahoma before returning to Lawton to establish a law practice after he was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar in 1969, then becoming deeply involved in his community.
Served on numerous entities
Mackey, who died Dec. 20, served on numerous entities important to the community. He was a member of the Comanche County Industrial Development Authority, created to support economic development in endeavors as wide ranging as the expansion of the Goodyear plant, to building medical clinics in Cache and Medicine Park. As legal support for the City of Lawton and City Planning Commission, he supplied the important background in real estate and real property law. He was the long-time legal counsel for the Comanche County Memorial Hospital Authority Board of Trustees and as a decades-long member of the Lawton Kiwanis Club, he supported that group’s commitment to civic life and flipped pancakes at its annual fundraiser for years.
Coming from a musical home, Mackey was a singer of note. Mackey had a baritone that supported local musical productions, to include playing the role of Manrico the troubadour in “Il Trovatore,” as well as singing roles in “Madama Butterfly” and “Don Giovanni.”
Bursting into song
It is Mackey’s voice that prompts a story from Comanche County District Judge Emmit Tayloe, a long-time friend. Tayloe said he was in the lobby of City National Bank, doing business one year at Christmas time. The lobby was decorated for the holidays; the bank was serving hot cider and cookies to its customers.
“Everybody was going about their business. Right in the middle of it, John Mackey comes walking in the west door and starts singing at the top of his lungs. He just belted out a Christmas carol. Everybody froze and you could hear a pin drop,” Tayloe said. “There was no announcement; he started belting out this Christmas carol.
“That was John Mackey, just making people happy. John just made everyone stop for five minutes, just stop conducting business. It was awesome.”
Tayloe said Mackey was an established attorney when the future judge established himself as a lawyer in Lawton in 1983. Mackey already had a reputation for helping other attorneys, especially with civil law.
“That was John’s forte and his speciality. He was the guy to go to,” Tayloe said.
Local attorney John Zelbst said Mackey was a man of impressive legal talents.
“He was one of the few lawyers who held me down in a jury trial,” Zelbst said, remembering Mackey was defending an insurance company and while Zelbst, representing a client suing the company, ultimately won, Mackey gave him a run for his money.
Zelbst said Mackey already was Memorial Hospital’s board of trustees long-time attorney when he joined the board in 1997. He said Mackey was an attorney who faithfully served the board and its mission, providing advice and guidance over the years on complex problems and issues. Zelbst said Mackey’s involvement there was a reflection of his personality and love of community.
“He was so community-minded, a person who gave great legal advice,” Zelbst said.
Zelbst also remembers a man who drew praise from his legal colleagues.
“I don’t know anybody who didn’t hold John in high esteem,” he said. “He was one of the leading attorneys and had a big footprint. He was one of the go-to lawyers.”
Mike Mayhall, a hometown boy like Mackey, said they had been part of the same poker group for 54 years, a group that evolved to playing golf every Wednesday.
Calling Mackey a fiercely loyal friend who loved his family, Mayhall said he and Mackey made the deliberate decision to return to Lawton to practice law. And, he understands why Mackey was so involved in his community.
“He had a proprietary interest in Lawton and seeing it doing well,” he said, of a topic he and his friend discussed often. “You have to do your part and give back to the community. It’s part of being a hometown boy, and he was very proud of that.”
Like others, Mayhall remembers Mackey’s voice and said it wasn’t uncommon for Mackey to note he had to sing at a funeral that week.
“He probably sang at over 1,000 funerals,” Mayhall said, adding Mackey had sang at the funerals of his mother and father and he fully intended Mackey would do the same when he died.
Former Mayor Fred Fitch said he remembers Mackey’s love of music, explaining when their group was playing golf on Wednesdays, it wasn’t uncommon for Mackey to announce “I’ve got to go; I’ve got choir practice” at his church, Centenary United Methodist Church.
Fitch said Mackey had connections to people outside of Lawton because of his law school days. For example, he was college roommates with former Gov. Frank Keating. The men retained their college and law school friendship throughout their lives, and when it came time for Gov. Keating to appoint people to boards and commissions, “we got a lot of appointments at the state level because of John.”
Supported civic, economic development
Mackey strongly supported civic and economic development issues that changed the face of Lawton-Fort Sill. Fitch said Mackey already was involved in the Comanche County Industrial Development Authority when he joined, and Mackey’s common sense and knowledge of key legal aspects of economic development were crucial. Both men also were involved with the Waurika Lake Master Conservancy District, the entity that guides the lake that supplies water to Lawton and five other communities in Southwest Oklahoma. Fitch said Mackey was a major player in efforts to upgrade the system, repairing gates and water systems to ensure the lake continues providing water.
“He always had good questions. He listened and listened and listened. When he spoke, you needed to listen to him,” Fitch said. “He had given so much time and hours to the community. He did it without accolades. It was just part of his makeup that he was contributing to the betterment of this community.”
Served as mentor
Deputy City Manager Richard Rogalski worked with Mackey for years as part of his work with the City Planning Department, whose work ranges from reviewing construction plans to serving as the staff support for the City Planning Commission. Rogalski had just been named city planner when he met Mackey.
“I had a lot of experience in design and development, but almost none in real property law,” Rogalski said. “I cannot tell you how many times I was able to call John and he provided me with the reasoning and purpose of the statutes so I was able to make the correct decision. John’s assistance and expertise advice was often requested by the City Planning Commission and the Lawton Urban Renewal Authority as they tackled complex issues related to property division and acquisition. He always made time for the commissioners and myself, not because it was his job, but because he was committed to helping the Lawton community.
“After 15 years of those conversations it can sometimes seem like I know what I am talking about. But I owe it all to John.”
John Jones, a local developer and long-time member of the City Planning Commission, knew Mackey for years.
“John was a good friend, heavily involved in our community and a community leader,” Jones said, adding he also had a personal connection to Mackey through his music. “I always reminded my wife that I wanted John to sing the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ at my funeral.
“Professionally, John was well respected, and especially by those of us in the real estate profession, for his knowledge of real estate related issues, whether it be title or matters involving legal issues in the daily operation of a real estate business. John was the one that many Realtors turned to.”
David Denham, chairman of the City Planning Commission, said his dealing with Mackey dated back decades.
“He and my grandfather were in Kiwanis together,” Denham said. “I have been fortunate to spend the past several years sitting next to John at Lawton City Planning Commission meetings while he provided the commission his legal expertise. I always appreciated his humor when we would wrap up the meeting in short order and he asked if we could discuss other issues as he was ‘on the clock’. John’s service to the city and community in general were immense.”