Barbara Mack leaves a legacy

Portrait of Barbara Mack with horses (one of her favorite pastimes) on Sept. 24, 2008, at the Horse Barns. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Logan Gaedke

Portrait of Barbara Mack with horses (one of her favorite pastimes) on Sept. 24, 2008, at the Horse Barns. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Katelynn Mccollough

Almost a year ago, just a few weeks after beginning my time at the Daily, I was asked to do a profile story on Barbara Mack.

I was terrified.

I was terrified because I was about to interview a woman who would catch every grammatical error in my story, who I knew would expect a certain level of professionalism and whom I fiercely respected and admired.

It was in this interview Barbara looked me in the eyes, in the middle of a question, and told me I should go to law school. Two hours later, I walked out of that interview with a new sense of what I wanted to do with my life, and I still have every intention of continuing on to law school because of that conversation to this day.

Now, once again, I have been asked to write a story on Barbara Mack, and once again, I am terrified. But this time it is because I fear I will not do her justice since her passing early Thursday morning.

“Barbara is one of those people for whom words are just not enough to describe her,” said Jane Peterson, professor and associate director of the Greenlee School of Journalism. “I guess I have to say that I have been her colleague for 26 years. And her friend for that many as well.”

The two used to “team teach” a basic reporting class after Barbara first arrived as a professor at Iowa State in 1986. She had just left her job as general counselor for The Des Moines Register & Tribune Company, where she had worked since 1969.

Barbara had graduated from Iowa State in 1974 with a degree in journalism, and by 1977 she had received her juris doctorate from Drake University.

“She was working full time at the Register and was going to night school at Drake,” said Bill Monroe, former chief of operations for the Iowa Newspaper Association, who first met Barbara in 1981 when he joined the association.

“I’ve never met anyone like her … so caring, so smart, so funny,” Monroe said, who worked with Barbara while she was a First Amendment attorney. “There just aren’t many Barbara Macks in the world, unfortunately.”

Monroe described Barbara as being “in many respects, the face of the Greenlee School,” and that is the place where most remember her.

“She motivated students. She respected the students, and they appreciated that she treated them as professionals and expected them to behave as professionals, which is so important in a professional school such as the journalism school,” Peterson said from her time teaching with Barbara.

For many students at Iowa State, Barbara will always be fondly remembered as B-Mack. A professor who would pull your hair if you excessively used “like” and “umm,” who would take your cellphone until the next class period if she caught you using it in class, and who demanded respect.

They also loved her.

For Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism, Barbara will always be the woman who made Iowa State home.

Bugeja first met Barbara in 2003 when she picked him up from the Des Moines airport in a snowstorm to drive him to his interview with Iowa State.

“So your name is Mickey,” said Barbara as she first greeted Bugeja, “I have a horse named Mikki. Let’s go meet her.”

After meeting Barbara’s horse, cleaning the barn and having coffee together, Bugeja said he had made his decision — he wanted to work at Iowa State. Bugeja credited Mack as the reason he came and stayed in Iowa.

“[Barbara] lived to jolt you out of your box, and she even questioned what your box was,” Bugeja said. “She made you work hard for your truths, and when she was too hard on you, she suddenly showed this compassion and sensitivity that opened up to you like a veil, and then you knew she was touching your conscious and consciousness.”

Sharon Malheiro, president of the board of directors at the Davis Brown Law Firm, worked with Barbara at The Des Moines Register.

“I will never ever lose her laugh in my head,” Malheiro said, who said that Barbara also encouraged her to go to law school. “You could never ask for a better friend or a better advocate.”

Barbara loved horses, especially Mikki. She loved to laugh, to tell stories, to travel, but mostly, she loved to teach.

“I’ve heard it said that some people are born teachers, and I don’t know if that’s anything you can prove scientifically, but anecdotally you could look at Barbara Mack and say: This is a born teacher. She just instinctively knew how to get students to perform at their very best. She expected the best, and she got the best out of her students,” Peterson said.

Barbara was currently on phased retirement, and this was to be her last semester teaching at Iowa State.

A year ago, when I sat in that interview and asked Barbara about her retirement she left me with this:

“You think about all the people you’ve met, all the people you’ve worked with. … It’s humbling to think of the experience I have had here. All of those things have happened because of Iowa State University. I want students to come away from a class believing there is always more to learn and there is always a way to improve their understanding. Nothing is as frustrating to me as a day in which I learn nothing.”