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Bob Macy: the man, the memory, the trademark string tie

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Bob Macy died in Newalla on November 18, 2011. He was born July 5, 1930 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

On Dec. 6, 2009, surrounded by family and friends, in a room crowded with hundreds from the younger generation of police, patrolmen and investigators, former Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy was part of the inaugural group of inductees into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame.

At the event held in Chandler’s old National Guard Armory, the inaugural hall of fame class included, posthumously, the “three guardsmen.” They were a group of legendary lawmen who began their careers in territorial days of the Nineteenth Century, including Bill Tilghman, Chris Madsen and Heck Thomas.

Speakers read words of praise for Macy from former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, state Attorney General Drew Edmondson, and others.

Macy’s retirement years, before his final illness and death were not entirely filled with introspection and concern for America’s future. His last years included tangible honors and echoes of his vibrant and vital past, even as his memory of many events faded.

There were also intangibles, feelings like those that came when a grandchild running into his arms to whisper, “Poppa, I love you.” Referring to the hall of fame induction while helping to feed the cattle at Bob’s place in Newalla, Ryen said, “Poppa got twice as much attention as anyone else at that party.”

Bob loved each of his three children. He often referred with terms of endearment to his daughter Teresa, a beautiful blonde woman who looks to me the most like her mother, Betty.

That day in Chandler, as we watched Bob greeting admirers, Teresa told me, “One of my clearest memories of my Dad is the incredible creativity and artistry that most people never saw. I remember his paintings and his writing such beautiful prose.”

The Bob Macy I met in the 1990 was the tough prosecutor, the intuitive cop, the bracing orator and forceful leader. The Bob Macy I got to know in 2008-09 was the one Teresa described, an engaging conversationalist, a man with a storehouse of memories of his early days that would require a half-dozen books adequately to capture.

He was a tough guy with the soul of an artist. He couldn’t remember everything, but he remembered a lot.
For Bob Macy, in the twilight years, there was the embrace and hugs of grandchildren. The times with Brett, Teresa and Sheila, and renewed friendship with Betty. Memories that enriched him, like the happy faces of children for whom he and a friend – during those “prime years” at the Oklahoma County Courthouse – bought food and clothing anonymously at Christmas time.

When the weather cooperated, Bob Macy sat on the porch at the String Tie ranch, watching cattle and remembering a consequential life, as the world passed by.

It was different than the years when, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, he often was called to violent crime scenes to see for himself the carnage he would, soon thereafter, begin to prosecute.

Scott Rowland, one in the legion of men and women Macy identified and nurtured in the law-and-order profession, wrote last week, “Bob Macy inspired a generation of us prosecutors and police officers. His love of right and justice was unwavering and his leadership made the county and the State a better place to live.”
He had critics, often including passionate opponents of the law’s ultimate sanction. No wonder they didn’t like him – Bob sent 54 people to death row.

Macy also had thousands of admirers like the late Hannah Atkins, a fellow Democrat and Oklahoma City legend. She called Bob Macy, “Mr. Integrity.”

In an interview two days after the Chandler event, Macy reflected, “I’ve spent almost my whole professional life focused on one thing, and that’s crime, and erasing crime. I was lucky to have an in-depth education, then invaluable experience as a deputy director at the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and in the [federal] commission study on crime. This is my profession, and I couldn’t help but remember that I had promised Governor Nigh, and the people, I would be the best District Attorney I could possibly be. I’ll tell you, receiving this honor and being put in the same category as the ‘guardsmen’ is kind of the crowning jewel in my lifetime of work.”

He continued, “I keep telling young people to recognize they have a window of opportunity to make an impact, to make a difference. Our country, our system is in a lot of trouble, but it’s not insurmountable. We’ve got to hitch our belts, get tough and take a stand. Those young people can find, support and elect the best people they can find. We have another chance to make a better world.”

At that moment, I asked Macy what would be his best advice to young people thinking about careers in law or public service. He answered, “There is a tomorrow. You have to live with whatever you do today. Do what’s right.”

Macy grinned at me, perhaps he a tad self-conscious about his words.

He told me, “I didn’t say it that well.” I told him, “You said it just fine.”

May he rest in peace.

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