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Colleagues in Disbelief as ‘Fearless’ Barbara Mack, an Iowa Journalism Legend, Passes Away

Aug. 24, 2012 on

Barbara Mack Memorial

Barbara Mack Memorial

News of the death of Barbara Mack, an Iowa State University professor who impacted students and journalists across the state, came as a shock to her former students and colleagues who called her a wonderful mentor and friend.

Professor Tom Beell, who had an office next to Mack’s, found himself in a state of disbelief despite the fact that Mack had, had some scary health episodes over the years.

“Anyone who knew Barbara, knew she was an indestructible person. … It was easy for me to assume that she would outlive us all,” Beell said.

Mack, 59, an attorney and an Iowa State University journalism professor since 1986, was found unresponsive in her home early Thursday. Mack was set to retire in December.

“We expected that she would have a chance to enjoy her retirement with her husband,” Beell said.

Mack thought she was having a heart attack Wednesday and was released from the hospital after a checkup, according to a statement released by the Iowa State University news service. When her husband, Jim Giles, went to check on her at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday, he “found her gone.”

Kathleen Richardson, executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and also the director of the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said Mack was a person of great intelligence and good humor.

“She lived life fearlessly and to the fullest. It’s a great loss for the journalism education community and for the Iowa Freedom of Information community.”

Mack graduated from Iowa State University and earned a law degree from Drake University in 1977. She also worked for the Des Moines Register as a reporter and a corporate attorney, and as an assistant to former President Martin Jischke.

Richardson, who worked with Mack when she was an attorney at the Register and through the Information Council, said that Mack is both a journalism and legal legend in the state.

“I don’t think that is over stating it. She had such a big personality. She was so smart and funny and such a leading figure in media law and journalism education. I frequently run into working journalists who had Barb as their media law professor and say ‘It was the best class I ever took,’” Richardson said.

Mack could command the attention of hundreds of students at a time preventing them from slipping into their own world by talking to an individual student or bumping their chairs, Beell said.

“She had a wonderful sense of humor, and students enjoyed that,” he said.

She didn’t tell jokes, but she talked about things in an entertaining way that appealed to students, he said.

Mack often made light of herself telling students that she raced down Interstate 35 from Des Moines putting on her panty hose as she drove, said Julie Roosa, a DMACC professor of journalism and law and faculty adviser for the Banner News. She is also a former student of Mack at Iowa State.

Mack’s husband Giles had retired from Principal Financial and had been urging Mack to join him. Beell said Mack might have continued teaching not only for financial reasons but also because she had a great love for students who loved her back.

“Her students by and large really love her,” Beell said. “She was tough and she wouldn’t let people slide through. She made people work and some people didn’t like that.”

Roosa said she found herself in awe of Mack as an Iowa State student studying journalism in the early 1990s.

“I wanted her to be proud of me. … I am going to impress Barb Mack because she impresses me,” Roosa said.

“She had a way of engaging with students and helping them,” Beell said. “She could be an extraordinary friend to students who needed help. She was a surrogate mother for some of these people,” Beell said.

Beell said he’s often seen football players waiting outside Mack’s office door. She counseled a lot of athletes and they listened to her, he said. She had the same kind of connection with faculty.

Faculty often sought out Mack for a range of professional and personal advice.

“I did myself,” Beell said.

Beell said she would counsel people through their marriages and help people decide whether they should go to the doctor.

Roosa said with Mack’s retirement nearing, the school was obviously working on a plan to replace her.

“But she is irreplaceable even if it hadn’t (happened in a) tragic way it wouldn’t be the same place without her,” Roosa said.

Beell agrees:

“In the old days you had what you call Renaissance men, guys with a range of wonderful skills they’ve picked up. Barbara Mack was a modern day Renaissance woman, she knew a little about everything and it was wonderful to talk to her about any topic,” Beell said. “She was a wonderful colleague and she will be terribly missed.”


August 24, 2012 Posted by | Ames Patch | Leave a comment