Walter Edward Mackenzie
Walter Edward MacKenzie, bon vivant, raconteur, and surely the inspiration for that beer company’s Most Interesting Man in the World, went on to his next great adventure on August 16th at the age of 89. Those who knew him would be pleased but not surprised to learn that he lived life on his terms right up to the end.
Born in San Francisco, he was always a native Nevadan at heart and moved as quickly as he could to make it a reality. Childhood summers were spent on the Callahan Ranch, which belonged to his great aunt and uncle. He was class of 1946 at San Mateo (CA) High School and a member of the Peninsula Pandraggers hot rod club, having transformed a 1929 Ford. He transferred from San Mateo Junior College to the University of Nevada (no R for this guy) intending to get degrees in both Journalism and Animal Husbandry but couldn’t bear to perform the requisite task of slaughtering a cow. As a sophomore he ran for University Regent and nearly won. His SAE brothers never managed to throw him in Lake Manzanita while he was house manager. He left UN a few credits shy of graduation when his draft papers came through. He enlisted in the Marine Corps instead.
There he terrified his mother from afar (Quantico, VA) by instructing officers in hand-to-hand combat and basic weapons and explosives. He also served as an electronics technician, press liaison and public information specialist. One notable photograph, from his Pearl Harbor days, for the 44th anniversary of Marine Corps Aviation, was produced in desperation. The formation he was to shoot—without proper flight permission — had a minor collision. Walt and an accomplice who shall remain nameless merged two file photos so they could meet deadline. The resulting striking image drew the interest of top brass but somehow the negative they asked for was “lost.”
Walt’s life as a journalist, editor, and freelancer were no less interesting, most notably covering the first atomic bomb test open to reporters in April of 1952. A recent Sparks Tribune column recalled the time he dressed as waiter to deliver room service to Frank Sinatra to confirm Sinatra’s presence in a Tahoe hotel during the kidnapping of Frank Jr. in 1963. Walt also recalled that at another time Sinatra tried to steal his date: “I couldn’t blame him. She was beautiful.”
He was deeply proud of his 14 years’ work on the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and its successful effort to keep a high-speed freeway from replacing SR89 and a bridge from being built over Emerald Bay. He lamented the proposed development at Homewood.
His fanciest title was Director of Economic Development for the State of Nevada. At this time in his life he was cultivating his likeness to Mark Twain, a look and a mustache he maintained throughout his life, along with bushy eyebrows a Schnauzer would envy. While travelling for this job he perfected his method for bringing home hard-to-find bottles of single-malt Scotch: slip bottle into the shaft of one cowboy boot, slip shaft of the second boot over the first. What family believes to be a distillery “bucket list” from a 2009 trip to Scotland shows more than 30 visited. His very favorite was always Talisker 25.
Among Walt’s dozens of affiliations, he took great delight in being a card-carrying member (and tenth Noble Grand Humbug) of E Clampus Vitus, Snowshoe Thompson Chapter. He enjoyed the TRASH Treks of this drinking historical society (or is it historical drinking society?).
Walt was an avid photographer and perfected the art both as a security guard (licensed in many states) and in Baja California where he loved to catch the migration of the humpback whales as closely as he could, despite the fact that he couldn’t swim. He recently remarked, “The whales are my brothers.”
He was the eldest child of Walter Fowle MacKenzie and Leona Dair Patterson (she of a notable Carson City family). He leaves behind a daughter, Brynne Dyer, of Tigard, OR and a son, Roderick, of Reno; two sisters, Patricia Barr of San Mateo, CA and L. Darlene Beveridge of Sunnyvale, CA. ; his dearest friend, Ellyn MacKenzie of Sparks; six nieces and nephews; and friends old and new. He also leaves behind a 1954 MG, in pieces, that he never quite got around to.
No service has yet been planned. If you wish to be notified or have a story the family hasn’t heard (which is highly likely as there are so many), please be in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Walt said he would appreciate donations in his memory to Paralyzed Veterans of America, Donation Processing Center, 7 Mill Brook Road, Wilton, NH 03086.