The reason for all this – A Tribute to Kevin Mackie

Kevin Mackie and Montana Smith • Still Image from Dorf Goes Fishing video

Kevin Mackie. Man, I don’t know where to begin. I think it might be starting to hit me. He has impacted my life more than any other human being outside of immediate family.

Most of the people I know and interact with today, they came from Kevin. He didn’t introduce each of them to me, but he gave me a path. When I started writing for Open Vibe, his local version of The Onion, I was a child. I think I was about 21 or 22, maybe, and it changed my life forever.

I was writing for the Smoky Mountain Herald at the time, and I quickly met the goofy graphic designer with jokes on top of jokes, an incredible work ethic and the most undying loyalty to his people since Jesus. He was a well-oiled machine of life.

We did crazy things for stories in that paper. We dressed up like woman and ran a 100-yard dash for the “Drag Race” issue and we had a cover with a picture of us running 100-dollar bills off of the old press. It didn’t look real but there’s no way I’d do that nowadays. I was in the background watering a plant and it’s the only picture of me that has ever been in any of the papers I’ve been involved with.

The last issue he printed of the Vibe was called “The invisible marker issue” or “The invisible crayon issue” or something. The inside of the paper was completely empty. He had talked about doing that for years, and we always laughed about it. I’ve never thought about it or made the connection till this very moment, but that’s pretty appropriate, considering the project that he helped me create would be called BLANK. That’s pretty wild.

He was one of those, “teach a guy to fish” folks. He taught me how to use InDesign and Photoshop and he told me how to sell ads. He also got pretty fed up with me bringing him everything for the paper the night before print deadline. We stayed up together all night long building the first several issues. I don’t know of another person who would have done that, and it worked. He was so patient with me but he also realized that he needed to get some sleep come print time, so he taught me.

He told me that I had something good and that he was proud of me and that’s why Blank has worked. It was a worthy endeavor the moment he said he we had something. We had already won.

Over the years, I’ve met so many folks through the paper and my life is better because of it. In fact, I love my life. I love what I do. And again, that’s thanks to Kevin. I flunked out of Pellissippi after a second chance there and I was lost. I was a puppy and brash, so I didn’t know it, but had I not met Kevin, I have no idea what I’d be doing now and whether or not I’d love my life.

I feel fortunate.

I will never know his equal in terms of kindness and I don’t want to, frankly. When you are kind in this world, people don’t always treat you correctly. He was just brilliant at taking the blows that came with his way and never steering off course.

He would help someone even if it didn’t look like a sure fire fix, and if it didn’t work, he’d just help again. No flinching. He’d tell me to shut up if I got on to him too much about it. I loved that, too. He was also great with woman. I loved that, too.

I remember urging him to be more selfish at times, to pay attention to his own needs more, and that it wasn’t always his job to help if it didn’t make sense at the time. He’d say something like, “I know, but they need help, man. It’s no big deal.”

It was a big deal. It was always a big deal, and it always will be. The things he set in motion with his undying giving will reach every corner of the universe for the rest of time and that pumps me up in a way I’m unfamiliar with. It’s inspiring and it’s the truth. It’s inspiring because it is the truth.

If this piece is engaging enough for you to read until now, call the people in your life that have made your journey easier. Spend some time thinking about it. Who did it for you? What can you do for them? Just telling them you remember that they did it is enough.

I’ve gotten busy or whatever of late and I feel like a pansy for feeling overwhelmed. I just feel stupid and weak about it. But I recently remembered something Kevin’s incredible, beautiful mother, Carolyn, told me when I met her. Before she passed, I went to Johnson City to meet the woman who created this man and I was going on about people being too busy for things (which is what I have turned in to. I’m embarrassed and I’m working on it.) She said, “There have always been 24 hours in a day, Rusty.” She went on to say that people have always been “busy” and that saying “There’s not enough time in the day” is a ridiculous concept and that people have had things to do since we were created. What a great reminder.

The second stage at Second Bell will be the Mackie Stage. It’s a way for both Kevin and his mother to live on and they deserve it.

All of this is because of Kevin. The paper, the festival, all of it.

So here I am, finally unable to fend off the fact that the best friend I’ll ever have is no longer physically around, but I’m not mostly sad. I’m mostly inspired, because my life is better because of Kevin Mackie and yours is, too. Even if you never had the pleasure of meeting him.

NOTE: Here’s the wonderful recap video that Knoxville’s own Loch N Key Productions captured from Second Bell. You’ll see the Mackie Stage early and often. He would have loved it. We’re doing it again next year, so come out if you can and celebrate Kevin with us. 

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1 Comment

  1. Ben Maddux

    What a great tribute, Rusty. I can still hear his voice all the time and it brings back memories of good times. Thanks for writing this man. Definitely a life well lived and sorely missed.


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