Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
Eulogy for Rear Adm. (ret.) G.W. “Jerry” MacKay, U.S. Navy
San Carlos, California
September 21, 2017
Members of the MacKay and their extended families, including the Fords, Finnegans, Seatons, Hentons, Havens, Stamms, Sullivans, Cibocis, and Castros.
Friends of the MacKays, including Ambassador Priscilla Clapp, Mr. Nathan Vaniman, Admiral Tom Brown, and so many others.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it's no exaggeration for me to say that I stand here before you, in the uniform of a 4-star Admiral in the U.S. Navy, due in largest measure to Rear Admiral Jerry MacKay.
How does one take the measure of a man who lived a truly remarkable life; a man who accomplished truly incredible things; a man who roamed the planet as if it were his own backyard; a warrior who defended his country in war and peace? This is, indeed, a daunting challenge.
So let me begin today as we gather here in this holy place to celebrate the life of an incomparable man. A Naval Aviator, Vietnam veteran, a brilliant strategist, corporate leader, and Flag officer. A man who loved peace as only those who have been surrounded by war and chaos can. A global citizen and a proud American.
Today, we celebrate the life of a legendary man who counted among his countless friends heads of militaries from around the world, diplomats of the highest rank, and captains of industry. His friends and colleagues included our Nation's leading lights in the national security arenas, as well as peacemakers and warlords and men and women who live lives on the dangerous edge of things.
Today we celebrate the life of a radical man, a son of Canada, a man who served and rose to prominence in the most conservative and tradition-steeped of the armed services – yet a man who gave of himself and his treasure in his quest for greater diversity, equality, fairness and opportunity for all Americans.
Today we celebrate the life of a truly gallant gentleman, a man who loved his beautiful Linda with all his heart and soul, and who was loved in turn by her.
Will Rogers once said, “We can’t all be heroes. Some of us have to stand by on the curb and clap as they go by.”
Today, we all get to stand here as one of those heroes passes by.
G.W. "Jerry" MacKay indeed lived a life in full. Born in Nova Scotia, he moved to the U.S., grew up during World War II, and graduated from the legendary Boston Technical High School – now known as the the John D. O'Bryant School of Math and Science. He enlisted in the Navy, but his brainpower and technical smarts made him stand out and he became a Naval Aviation Cadet, or NAVCAD – a program where you were sent to flight school and, if you were good enough to earn your Wings of Gold, you got a commission, too. A college degree was not a requirement. So he was only 20 years old when he was commissioned – an age where his contemporaries from the Academy or ROTC were still in college and several years away their own wings. Admiral MacKay was always a self-starter and well ahead of the power curve.
Now the Admiral got his wings in 1956, just when the Cold War was really taking off. He chose to fly Maritime Patrol – first in the P-2 Neptune then the mighty P-3 Orion – specializing in anti-submarine warfare. Which is to say in those days, anti-Soviet warfare.
He was incredibly successful in both airmanship and leadership and he rose up through the ranks to command the Blue Sharks of VP-6 in Hawaii, the Black Lightnings of VP-31 here in Moffett Field, and Patrol Wing One in Japan.
Along the way, he was a project officer for NavAir, an acceptance test pilot at Grumann, ship's company on the aircraft carrier LAKE CHAMPLAIN, and a Joint Chiefs of Staff planner on the Navy Staff in the Pentagon – skill sets that would serve him well down range.
In the long and difficult campaigns of the Cold War – a struggle that culminated in the victory of democracy over communism, of freedom over oppression, of thoroughfares and gateways over blockades and barricades – Admiral MacKay figured prominently.
Selected for Flag Officer in 1980, he was assigned as the commander of the Navy's West Coast Patrol Wings here at Moffett, then, in 1982 to U.S. Naval Forces Japan in Yokosuka. This is where I first entered his expansive orbit when I was assigned as his Aide. I was then a brash, young Lieutenant fresh from my first squadron tour. And I was full of myself – not a man in full.
Rear Admiral Jerry MacKay, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan, speaks with then-Lieutenant Harry Harris aboard USS Midway (CV-41) in 1984.
(Photo courtesy of ADM Harry Harris)
Admiral MacKay taught me how to broaden my thinking to embrace technology and innovation, to navigate the dangerous shoal waters of international affairs, and to think boldly and critically. He taught me that integrity, accountability, and reputation were worth more than promotion, medals, and treasure – in fact, they counted for everything.
I watched as he conducted complex negotiations with the Japanese over the future of our alliance. I watched as he managed the Navy's response to the Soviet-shootdown of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 over the Sea of Japan. And I watched as he expertly finessed the demands from Washington, the imperatives from Honolulu, and the petitions from Tokyo. I felt as if I was getting a Ph.D in international relations, negotiations theory, and balance-of-power politics. I learned to operate in the rarefied air of Flag officer business. All skill sets that would serve me well down-range.
Throughout my career, especially at those junctions where the flight plan was cloudy – where certain turbulence and hidden wind shears awaited any bad decision I might make – Admiral MacKay was there for me and he always gave me the right steer to keep me on glide path.
And here I stand before you today – a MacKay-trained man and proud of it.
Admiral MacKay was, indeed, a man fully in the moment, a force of nature if there ever was one. And he acquired a well-deserved reputation for being an exacting pilot, a tough taskmaster, and a skilled negotiator.
Of course, his most successful negotiation was when he charmed a daughter of the Pacific Northwest. He met, then wooed, Linda Seaton and they were married in 1968 – 49 years of adventure, glamor, and love.
A true renaissance man, Admiral MacKay was an accomplished gear head with a string of fabulous vehicles including an MGTD, a boat-tailed Riviera, and a classic Beetle that ran and looked better than it did coming out of the showroom. He and Linda owned a gorgeous Chris Craft which they kept at Coyote Point Yacht Club and named "At Ease" – an oxymoron if there ever was one.
After the Navy he was a leader in a succession of companies in the electronics industry, including Dalmo Victor, Singer Link, Litton and finally, as president of Advent Systems.
He was a Sailor, pilot, diplomat, corporate leader and, always, mentor, friend, and patriot. Indeed, throughout his uncommon life, Admiral MacKay was always there for his country, his family, his friends, and his Navy. Fiercely loyal, he was a man of rare accomplishment, even rarer ability and, rarest of all – a man of conspicuous integrity.
His legacy, however, lies not in the landings he made, the submarines he chased, and even the organizations he commanded. Rather, his legacy lies in the men and women he taught and molded and led – and in the indomitable spirit of America he epitomized.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, I believe Admiral MacKay's spirit moves about us today, reminding us that courage, commitment, intelligence, integrity, and love transcend death, and that dreams are worth striving for. Jerry MacKay spent a good portion of his life preparing future leaders in America for the vicissitudes of peace and the uncertainties that await us in the global commons.
I for one will forever be indebted to him. I'll never forget him. And I already miss him.
Samuel Johnson said, “It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives.”
Admiral MacKay lived life to the fullest. He was the best of us. Thank you, Admiral. I look forward to the day when I'll be your aide again on the other side of the rainbow. May God keep you and may God bless Linda and the Navy and Nation you loved.