Edward J. Mackey, a career railroad man and skilled storyteller who could always bring a laugh to family and friends, died Aug. 4 after several years of troubled health. He was 77, and died peacefully in the embrace of his wife and son.
Ed began his career with the Illinois Central Railroad in 1962. For two decades, he worked in the freight division, hopping on and off box cars in rail yards, day and night, regardless of the weather. In the 1980s, he transferred to the commuter division, which later became part of Metra.
Working on the line from University Park to Chicago, Ed helped thousands of men, women, and children get safely to and from work and school, six days a week, in sun, rain and snow. He was also a proud member of the United Transportation Union, and a strong supporter of working people everywhere.
Ed relished his role as an Irish storyteller, with a sly, sharp sense of humor. Whether at family dinners, watching the 1985 Bears with friends at the Elks Lodge in Dolton, or more recently on outings in the Canadian wilderness with the Fish Tales Fishing Club, he loved sharing jokes and stories. A resident of Crete Township since 1989, Ed saw some of his closest friends split between Florida and Illinois in recent years. While their gatherings were less frequent, they were enjoyed all the more for it.
Some of his stories have become part of family lore, like the way he once dealt with a group of obstinate high school students on his train. The boys were entitled to cheap student fares, less than a dollar, but would line up to pay with 10s and 20s. A conductor can make change, but he’s not a bank, so when this started to become a regular occurrence, he asked the boys to bring smaller bills.
The next time one of them presented a big bill for a small fare — with a confident, youthful smirk, the story goes — Ed was ready. He reached into his coat pocket and produced a Ziploc bag full of pennies. “Hold out your hands,” he said. They would get exact change, but they would not be getting the baggie. The next boys in line suddenly remembered they had been carrying singles after all.
Edward James Mackey was born in Evergreen Park on Sept. 2, 1943; he was a product of the Chicago Catholic schools and was in the class of 1961 at Mendel Catholic High School. His father, Edward Joseph Mackey, was an attorney. His mother, Martha A. (Schilf) Mackey, was a homemaker.
The younger Ed spent a small part of his childhood living in postwar Austria, where his father was stationed with Army occupation forces. Although his father had been admitted to the Illinois bar before the U.S. entered World War II, the Army needed grunts, not lawyers, so the elder Mackey fought as an enlisted soldier in the Philippines. Then, after the war, he returned to the Army as an officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps. Later in life, the younger Ed would recall with pride that Capt. Mackey was a sought-after defense lawyer for young soldiers in trouble.
Ed would also recount the postwar deprivation endured by the Austrian children who were among his earliest friends. One young boy and his brother became regulars at the Mackey breakfast table, but the older brother would refuse to eat until he was sure his younger brother had enough food.
This experience and others left Ed with a soft spot for those in need. He was active in charitable work through the Elks and other organizations, and on a few occasions he surprised a stranger seeking help by slipping them a hundred dollar bill. He also grew increasingly concerned with social justice and equality as he aged, worrying over the future of the country and world his beloved grandsons would be left to inhabit.
He affectionately called those boys “my little angels,” and enjoyed taking them for rides on his fishing boat. As his health declined, he was buoyed by the prospect of future fishing trips with his grandsons, as he had done with his son decades before.
He loved and was bursting with pride for his son, Brian, from high school marching band through a career in journalism. Ed was known to offer advice, and among his favorite aphorisms was: “Sometimes you just have to go along to get along.” He offered this advice on his son’s wedding day, and lived by it — mostly — over more than 50 years of marriage to Barbara. He adored his wife, and was immensely proud of her earning a mid-career Ph.D. and rising to the highest levels of her profession. From their first date at a Catholic League football game in November 1963, to travels in Europe in recent decades, their love grew stronger over the years.
Edward was preceded in death by his parents; his uncle and godfather, William Mackey of La Crosse, Wisc.; his aunt, Sister Rosemary Mackey; and his father-in-law and fishing partner, John Peredna. He is survived by wife Barbara; son and daughter-in-law Brian and Nichole, of Springfield; and two grandsons. He is also survived by his mother-in-law, Jeanne Peredna; and his younger brother, Michael Mackey, of Maryland.
Owing to pandemic safety considerations, the family has chosen to postpone a celebration of Ed’s life until it is safer to bring people together. Therefore, there will be a private memorial Mass at his parish, St. Boniface, in Monee. He will be buried at St. Casimir’s Cemetery in Chicago.
Memorial donations in his memory may be directed to the Lewis University Mission Fund. Created during the Great Recession, the fund helps students experiencing extreme financial hardship to complete their college education: alumni.lewisu.edu/giving.