Mac (John William) MacDevitt was born John William MacDevitt on May 26, 1946. He was welcomed into the family home in Great Neck, NY, by his brothers Jimmy (3) and Larry (2). His parents James and Catherine were still in the process of creating a family after James’ return from his service as a captain in WWII in North Africa and Europe. Mac was the cute kid, and his brothers competed for his attention. James and Catherine were staunch Irish Catholics, creating a strong belief system that was perfect for the three brothers to rebel against. After a short, frightening stint at St. Aloysius School, Mac attended the warm, supportive Baker Hill Elementary School, as “one of the geeky Christian kids” where he made lifelong friends.
All through high school Mac was an adventurer. He climbed the tallest trees and dated the most attractive and energetic girls. He would slip out late at night to scale the water tower in the neighborhood and stand on the tippy top, where he had a view of the New York City skyline. He graduated from Great Neck North Senior High School in 1964.
After a road trip to Shimer College in Mt. Carroll, IL, he and his brother Larry enrolled, deciding they could be “big fish in this little pond”. Shimer was academically stimulating, social, warm, and full of free-thinking, quirky students. Many college campuses at this time, the second half of the 1960’s, were embroiled in politics, but there was little of that at Shimer. Instead there was an immersive combination of the intellectual stimulation of a small-class Great Books discussion curriculum combined with a particularly extreme 1960s version of self-discovery, helped along by motorcycles and various kinds of intoxication. Mac acquired a number of enduring friends and was propelled into a permanent love of learning, graduating in 1968.
After a short-lived marriage with Ann Linquist from 1968-1970, and a stint teaching in the Head Start program in Freeport, IL, from1968 to1969, Mac headed for Vermont, where he built a really small cabin and lived in tepees with his girlfriend Penny Wilder and his brother Larry. He worked as an aide at a psychiatric hospital. There he got interested in and then engaged in his own therapy. These experiences propelled him to get further education in counseling. He earned an MEd in counseling from the University of Vermont in 1976, a PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Utah in 1982, and an MFA in creative writing from Northern Michigan University in 2004.
Mac married Maggie Leonard in 1980. After a stint at a counseling center in rural Chester, Montana, where their son Shaun was born, they moved to Northern Michigan University (NMU), in Marquette in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Sons Matt (34) and Patrick (28) followed. Mac began practicing at the NMU student counseling center. He loved doing therapy with students, especially not having to give them diagnostic labels or charge fees. After a time, he saw himself as a “Student of Love”, writing in an article, “For therapists, love is listening, receiving, knowing… Love is our stock in trade.” Mac also was a vigorous advocate for student services and employee benefits during his 30 plus year tenure at the university. John and Maggie divorced in 1990.
Mac married Cathy Dunn in 1993; they divorced in 1999. Mac gained a step daughter, Cassie (32), and son Brian (21) was born in 1996. He saw his kids as “all bright, all fun, all challenging in various ways and degrees”.
The tsunami in his life was the death of Shaun at 16 with three of his friends in a car accident in 1997. He made himself feel the depth of his grief and his pain and expressed his loss through his short story and academic writing. He became even more deeply engaged with his children. He struggled to cope and to continue to move on in his life. His brother Jimmy’s death at 51 was also a blow. He made visits to the cemetery where Shaun and his parents are buried a part of his weekly routine, often on his lunch breaks from work. He continued to write heart-felt short stories, and even a novel, often with the theme of dealing with the death of a child or being an old guy trying to find his place in the world.
In 1998, after three divorces and now very gun-shy of marriage, Mac entered into a long-term committed relationship with Terry Delpier, a nursing professor at NMU. After being engaged for 16 years they got married on the beach a block from his house earlier this year, shortly after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. Early on they blended their families together, and Mac got deep pleasure from Terry’s sons Zack (27) and Tanner (23), engaging all the kids in bouts of laser tag, Euchre, Risk, computer games, and going to the beach. More recently, he was intrigued and warmed by the visits of Matt and Heather Pear’s kids from California – his grandsons – Rowan (6), Max (4), and Xavier (1).
Mac continued to engage deeply with adventures and friendships. He started riding old BMW motorcycles. Hiked and canoed in the Upper Peninsula. Took the family to Scotland with Terry. But the adventure he loved most was escaping to his “camp” in the remote pine forest of the UP with his buddies – riding four wheelers, fiddling with his solar power system, drinking beer, and partying, chatting, and schmoozing with his camp buddies, who provided lots of new material for his stories. Mac loved to move in close to friends old and new and listen and enjoy as they shared their stories with him. A few years ago he wrote, “Life has been busy wearing me down to a smooth-edge stone. I wonder sometimes if I am getting worn down enough to slip through the grate?”
Mac slipped away from us on his 71st birthday. Following the diagnosis of terminal lung cancer, he had started palliative chemo. He had hopes of living at least through the summer and deeply enjoying for a few more months the full life and loving relationships he had built over a lifetime. His sudden death was a shock. But we are still feeling the warmth and support of the circles of love that he kept spinning with Terry, the kids, his extended family and dear friends.
He was preceded in death by his son Shaun MacDevitt (Marquette, MI), his brother Jimmy (Great Neck, NY), his father and mother, James and Catherine MacDevitt.
Mac is survived by his brother, Larry (Mac) MacDevitt of Essex, NY, and sister-in-law Darla Breckenridge of Essex, NY; wife Terry Delpier of Marquette, MI; children, Matthew, Patrick and Brian; stepchildren, Cassie, Zack, and Tanner; niece, Catherine (of Schenectady, NY), nephews, Ben and Zak (of Essex, NY); his daughter-in-law, Heather, and grandchildren, Rowan, Max, and Xavier; and many other relatives, colleagues, and friends.
Services will be at Swanson-Lundquist Funeral Home, on Third Street of Marquette on Thursday, June 1st: Visitation at 4pm, Service at 5pm, with an informal sharing reception to follow.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to any of the following:
● Northern Michigan University “Poverty Simulation Project”: NMU Foundation,
1401 Presque Isle Ave.
Marquette, MI 49855
● Heifer International
1 World Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72202
● Bay Cliff Health Camp
N4175 Baycliff Dr.
Big Bay, MI 49808
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