Eulogy, Mac McFadden 1946-2012

Note: I have not blogged for a couple of days, because I was writing this. Now that the eulogy has been spoken, I might as well publish it. Back to work on Monday. Enjoy your Oscars®.

Here’s a story about an atheist and a cross.  But it isn’t quite what you might imagine.

Eulogy, Mac McFadden – Memorial Service 23 Feb 2013

© the Estate of John "Mac" McFadden 2012

We are least equipped to express those things we most want to express. I am a writer and have been for nearly forty years, and yet, now that I have something that is desperately important to communicate to you, I know most painfully that I cannot begin to accomplish the task.

But I must anyway, and so, knowing in advance that my words will fail, I can only do the best I can, because it’s better than nothing, and trying, knowing that failure is inevitable, is always a better choice than not trying.

In that, I think, lies an important part of who Mac McFadden was, and who he was that we are here to honor and remember today.

So, I want to tell you a story about a cross, or, as the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals described it:

“a fifty-one foot concrete Latin cross with neon inset tubing, and it is located at the crest of Skinner’s Butte.”

Typical background noise in the city Mac called home.

The Register-Guard says: “On the evening of November 28, 1964, the 24-ton concrete cross was installed with a small ceremony, but without permission from the city and with no building permit. City officials said they knew nothing about it; they did not even know whether it was on city property, either, since the university owned part of the butte. When the cross was found to be on city property …

And, yea, verily, the good citizens of Eugene fought about that cross for thirty years and more. There was a ballot measure declaring it a “War Memorial.” Suits were brought to have it declared an establishment of religion. It went to the Oregon Supreme Court twice. A case nearly went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, before the city declared they had better uses for the money. The Ninth Circuit had declared that the cross had to come down, and noted: “The cross has been the subject of litigation since the time it was erected.”

The case was entitled SEPARATION v CITY OF EUGENE and Separation won on August 20th,1996.

But nobody knew what to DO about the cross on Skinner Butte.

Now, this talk about a cross may seem a little odd here, since Mac did not believe in any sort of afterlife.

And I think it’s only fit and proper that we respect that.

These funerary affairs go back to stone cairns in which objects for the afterlife were included with the remains of the deceased. We have built pyramids and great sepulchres, tombs and  monuments. Millions have labored on great memorials to the dead. If you go to New York City, you can see Grant’s Tomb. If you go to Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C. you can see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

No expense has been spared in our funerals: Slaves were commonly killed and interred with the body of a powerful former person in many cultures. All of which were in service to different kinds of belief in an afterlife.

So, I think it’s proper to ask, then, if Mac didn’t believe in an afterlife, what the heck are we all doing here? It isn’t a dumb question.

I think that if you cease to exist when you visibly cease to exist, you remain alive ONLY in memories, and for us, Mac’s friends, to come together to remember together allows us all to see our friend, our loved one, in a deeper light as we share our individual memories, and allows us to share our grief, as well.

And for this moment,  Mac lives again, through us, here, in a profound sense.

Now, about that cross. On June twelfth of 1997, The Columbian (Vancouver, WA) reported


June 12, 1997

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — A gunman prevented workers from removing the controversial Skinner Butte cross for more than three hours today before he surrendered to police.

Workers discovered the man when they showed up about 6 a.m. to remove the cross to comply with a federal court order. They returned later to transport the cross to Eugene Bible College.

You see, Mac was appointed to the committee that decided where that cross was to be relocated, and, nearly a year after the Ninth Circuit Decision, on June 14th  1997, Flag Day, it took up permanent relocated residence at the Eugene Bible College, since renamed, gunmen notwithstanding.

There is a lot there that is the essence of Mac.

The first law of politics is “when all is said and done, more is said than done.”

Mac was the quiet fellow (not that he was reticent about speaking publicly, or speaking the uncomfortable truth to a room full of people who didn’t want to hear it), no, Mac was the fellow packing up the Democratic Party of Lane County booth after the Eugene Celebration. Or packing up the DPLC booth at the county fair, or hauling ice and water at the Democratic Party of Oregon’s state fair booth, when the August heat make free ice water a wonderful thing indeed. After all was said, Mac was generally around when things actually got DONE.

Mac was the fellow at the end of all that fighting over the Skinner Butte Cross (the first one was erected by the Chamber of Commerce in 1936, twelve feet high and outlined in neon). He was the fellow who helped fold up the chairs after a convention.  There is a word for that, and I’ll tell you what it is in a minute, but I want to tell you the thing that I most admired and remember about Mac:

The Vietnam war affected him profoundly, as it did his whole generation, but, unlike most, he served in Vietnam and unlike most who served, he did see combat.

I am not going to go into the details here. That is not what is important, and there are more than enough Vietnam movies around to suit whatever you might think about that long, misbegotten war for nothing. What is important is that when Mac came BACK from Vietnam, he had a choice, as did many men of his generation:

Did he keep it all a secret, plug back in and pretend that nothing ever happened? Some did that.

Did he come back disconnected and never plugged back in? I grew up with a man who did exactly that. He was captain of the football team and ready to marry his cheerleader high school sweetheart, and he went to Vietnam and never came back. His body did, but it was someone else. He drifted for many years, never really reconnecting. He learned to inspect houses for termites and saved up enough to move to the South Pacific, not long ago.

Too many did that. The homelessness figures on Vietnam veterans and all veterans since are appalling. Never really quite made it back.

Mac didn’t take either of those paths. He had every reason to reject the government and all of that, but he stayed engaged. He came back and plugged in. He married and had a daughter. He was a voice in Oregon politics for more than a quarter of a century, and he was always a friend to those whose friendship couldn’t possibly help him politically, which is an unusual quality, in and of itself. He served as a presidential elector.

He did things because they were the right things to do in the here and now, and not tainted by some there and then. If a man needed to eat TODAY, Mac dealt with that.

And that brings us to that word I told you I’d talk about. It’s a word that started out in Sanskrit,and skipped west to its present form in Persia, thence to the Middle East, and has now spread as far West as Albania and even France, a word that originally meant “gift.”

The word is “baksheesh.”

When Mark Twain visited Magdala, which is a town on the Sea of Galilee, he later wrote in The Innocents Abroad:

“They hung to the horses’ tails, clung to their manes and the stirrups, closed in on every side in scorn of dangerous hoofs — and out of their infidel throats, with one accord, burst an agonizing and most infernal chorus: ‘Howajji, bucksheesh! howajji, bucksheesh! howajji, bucksheesh! bucksheesh! bucksheesh!’ I never was in a storm like that before.”

What baksheesh is, then, is a form of mandatory “alms to the poor” that had caused the beggars to grow contemptuous, taking it as their due, as in “thank you for the contribution now you’re blocking my sun.

Joseph Campbell visited India in the mid-nineteen fifties and encountered such persistent and prevalent begging that he called it the “Baksheesh Complex.”

Now, I want you to imagine that you are a citizen of that part of the world. You give alms to the poor as a religious duty, but expect no gratitude from those you help. But you do it for “merit” or brownie points in either the afterlife or helpful miracles in this life. You are doing your duty not to the poor, but to your religion.

And now consider Mac, who continually gave baksheesh to those around him, many of whom were as thankless as the beggars of the Orient. But he never stopped giving because of that. If you needed a tire because you’d had an accident on a rainy road in the tulies in the middle of the night, Mac was there. Help with a sink. Help with brakes. Mac was a carpenter and a mechanic, and could work on most anything.

For the homeless of Eugene, while the City’s Homeless project hired him, he was there for the homeless. And before and after. When booths were to be transported, or a newsletter to be put out, Mac was there, fully engaged, not embittered, giving freely of himself.

All of this may not seem remarkable to you. You all knew Mac, and I suspect we all took his incredible drive to help those in need — less talking and more doing — as a given.

But remember: he didn’t believe in any afterlife, or building up brownie points with a deity or a priesthood.

He truly did it without expectation of reward. From anyone. Now: ask yourself how many people you have known in your life who were ever like that?

And that is what was most special about Mac. There are endless stories, and histories and facts and news snippets, but that is as close to the core of Mac as I can come here tonight.

Appropriately, the last time I ever saw Mac was at his daughter’s wedding in the Shelton-McMurphey House on a now-peaceful Skinner Butte.

from wikipedia the photograph is in the public domain

Shelton-McMurphey House

In December I published an ebook that Mac was looking forward to seeing, but did not live to see. And I dedicated it to Mac. I will read you that dedication to close.

author’s dedication
for Mac McFadden
boon friend, flight mechanic, musician, carpenter,
builder, decorated Vietnam veteran, politician,
friend to the homeless, encyclopedia of Oregon politics;
he was truly Rudyard Kipling’s “thousandth man,”

His wrong’s your wrong, and his right’s your right,
In season or out of season.
Stand up and back it in all men’s sight –
With that for your only reason!
Nine hundred and ninety-nine can’t bide
The shame or mocking or laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
To the gallows-foot — and after!


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One response to “Eulogy, Mac McFadden 1946-2012

  1. If you give in expectation of being rewarded you are not truly giving. Mac sounds like an exceptional person and I’m sure he is pleased at your rememberence of him. Lovely tribute.