I’ve been fortunate to work in a museum; I have come to recognize rare gems and obscure treasures. McKenzie was like these.
McKenzie’s passion was Early Roman Archaeology (200 BCE – 200 AD). He loved teaching student’s Latin, Roman/Greek history, culture, and (how to) write well (!).
He had the license to a “dig” in Montelupo Fiorentino, where he took students every summer to learn about archaeology, the art of digging a site, and all the peripherals that go with it (like the art of cataloguing even the minutest found items). Montelupo is the farthest eastern town up the Arno River that is navigable. Ships in Roman times destined for Florence docked at Montelupo and manually carted the cargo to Florence. Because of this, the town was loaded with objects discarded, dropped, left behind by the Romans, a great place to dig for artifacts that gave meaning to life in Roman times. McKenzie’s love was figuring out the layout of the town itself and why buildings’ placements were located where they were.
Being connected to a museum as a docent, it was gratifying to see McKenzie as an archaeological student who became impressed with the Museum’s Tiber Muse. Tiber Muse is a 2nd – 1st C. BCE statue of a woman with beautifully carved draped clothing. He was so impressed that she was in our collection. Every term break when he trekked home, he’d visit the Muse and revel in its style and workmanship. What fun for a parent – and a docent – to see a young person feeling the excitement of appreciating a piece that captures a part of yourself.
The loving culture, art, history, McKenzie talked about it all – even how to capture audience engagement. With him, there was never a lag in a conversation.
If you have endured this musing of mine, I thank you. I thought you might understand –being a museum person yourself– the gut-wrenching sadness of losing a gem (of a person). This rambling is like me curating my son in a vitrine in the middle of a gallery, focusing some light on him and saying, “don’t miss this one, he’s worth a look.”
Now I better understand the difficulty that institutions have in giving back treasures to the location of origin. It is just so hard after having a gem, conserving it, polishing it, having it be an important fabric of your existence, to give it back to its original source. It hurts so much.
When McKenzie came into my life, I had a 1.5-year-old child, and I had been a single mother from the start. This was something I chose, and my experience with Georgia was pretty amazing. I was not really looking for a relationship but, at the same time, wanted to see who was out there in the world. I knew that I would only have someone enter our lives if it was the right person, not just for me, but for Georgia.
Enter McKenzie. The fact that he was from the US and was only in Toronto for a short time did not bode well for his chances of dating me. He did not give up! When we met, our connection was instant – my adult niece later said that she noticed the twinkle in my eyes right after our first date. He quickly swept me off my feet with a romantic gesture after a romantic gesture. I had never met someone so focused on making me feel happy and special. He felt familiar to me. He was very easy to love.
Our relationship developed very quickly. We almost eloped on our third date in NYC. We even applied for a marriage license! We realized that we wanted our families and friends with us and decided to wait.
McKenzie and Georgia met soon after, and he was just so wonderful with her. Patient, silly, loving, attentive. He knew how to relate to her, and he marveled in the relationship she and I had built and never felt threatened or left out; he simply honored it and cherished it. Four months into our relationship, we decided to move in together. Mac packed up all of his belongings, took a major leap, and drove across the border to Canada. In the beginning, Georgia was a little protective of her mother. McKenzie had to patiently wait for her to open her heart to him fully. He would take her on outings, play dress-up with her, secretly buy her donuts, have dance parties, and best of all, spark her interest in myth and fairy tales by reciting mythological stories at bedtime where Georgia hung on his every word. And all the while she slowly fell in love with him and started naturally calling him Dad. To watch their relationship was like watching McKenzie turn into a butterfly. He metamorphosed into this completely committed, dad-joke telling, patiently loving father. It was so natural to him. It made me fall in love with him even more.
To describe the love and care and attentiveness Mac had for us is hard, to sum up. Anyone who saw him with us saw his dedication and love. It oozed out of him. He was a family man. He finally arrived at his happy place, a place he truly longed for. For us, he completed our family. He brought such an abundance of love and care; we are forever changed because of it.
His loss is immense. Georgia and I will cherish every memory. When she speaks of him, her eyes light up. Almost daily, she looks to the sky and tells Mac she loves him. He will be missed every single day, and the love that he had for us will forever be in our hearts and minds.
We love you Macky.
My dad is on the 3rd. He’s Clarence McKenzie Lewis III. He didn’t want to give McKenzie the burden of being the 4th, so he is named simply Clarence McKenzie Lewis. He was “Kenzie” as a kid. Then he became “McKenzie” as he became an adolescent. When he got to college, and then into Grad School, he switched to “Mac”. Our dad is named Mac too, so it created some confusion. McKenzie, being himself, just responded, “probably should have thought about that when you named me.”
He had a particularly hearty laugh. It was this chuckle that kind of rocked his stomach entirely, and he’d usually cover his face as if he was embarrassed to find something funny. It was always great to see.
A Total Original: McKenzie is so unique. People ask me about him, and I just think, where do I start?? There is nothing remotely cliché about him. Some quick thoughts:
There are not many people like McKenzie. He didn’t care if he was popular or nurturing superficial relationships, but rather just cared about those close to him. He was like a quaint, out of the way restaurant that nobody knows about but the people who do, swear by it and go out of their way to eat there. The restaurant doesn’t advertise nor cares if lots of people eat there. It just provides a great environment and great food. That was McKenzie.
McKenzie used to do this thing when we would try to take pictures of him, where he’d give the bird to the camera. We always used to think it was just him being a pain in the ass. Looking back on it now, I see it differently. This was his little way to rebel – because that was just who he was. He did this all the time. He chose a career that nobody chooses. He chose to spend his summers in Italy doing a dig, he smoked, and he went to the airport when he damn well felt he was ready. McKenzie had a signature style; it was awesome.
Whenever I visit my father-in-law Evans, his first question is, “How’s McKenzie?” almost immediately followed up with, “He’s such a great guy, isn’t he?” Evans is a cowboy and loves the outdoors. He loves horses, hiking, and not being pretentious. For several years, he called me “city slicker,” even though I’m from Minnesota. After I was married, Evans was on a road trip when he and McKenzie shared a meal in Wyoming, and it was love at first sight; he stopped off again a few years later just to say hello.
There are many times during the day that I think about something that happened in my youth, and then I remember that the only other person who could relate to it, because they were there, was McKenzie. I love a terrible joke, definitely more than most, but not more than McKenzie. He and I share a terrible sense of humor. It comes from our family. But whenever I heard a particularly bad joke, he’d be the first one I’d want to share it with.
He was just a good dude. And really loving. He loved to hug. He was trusting and generous. He took people at their word and believed the best in them. He was a great cook and could crush a crossword puzzle better than anyone else I know. But, most of all, he was a big teddy bear. He loved to hug, and I think that’s what I’ll miss most about him.
When McKenzie was in high school, I was in middle school; he loved Van Halen and Guns N’ Roses like I did – but, fun fact, he also loved Air Supply and Chicago and sappy ballads more than anyone. So, he knew about love, but he didn’t fully realize it until Tracey came along.
And when she did, she ROCKED his world. I remember talking to him about when he met Tracey. He told me, “I just never knew it could feel like this.” He was so in love. All of us who knew him best would say that these past years since Tracey and her daughter Georgia has been in his life, have been the happiest we’ve ever seen him.
He wanted to marry her so much. The only thing holding him back was that he didn’t want to be a cliché – “I don’t want to be like Ross Geller!” He finally got over his concerns and proposed when we were all together in August 2019. It was such a great moment for all of us. One of the tragedies is that he was really just getting the next phase of his life going. Tracey and Georgia and McKenzie were becoming an incredible unit, and McKenzie was the happiest any of us have ever seen. Here is Link to McKenzie & Georgia saying, “HI.” We were just getting started.
He behaved like his life had a new purpose. He adored Tracey and Georgia so much. You know what else? He felt so blessed that they were in his life, that he needed, every day, to earn it.
In December 1999, my brother and I drove 20 hours from DC to Minnesota, making our way home for Christmas. The heat in his pickup truck didn’t work, and the window between the bed of the truck and the cab was lodged open so his dog, Jesse (née Jezebel) could stick her nose through. The clutch was loose and threatened to slip at any minute, and Lord, Ohio, and Indiana interstates are boring. But what I remember really is the music. McKenzie had tapes upon tapes of Grateful Dead shows, and we spent the 20 hours listening to a song from the 1977 Culver City show and then contrasting it with a 1982 version, and then just for fun, let’s hear how Phish did it in ’98.
(A professor even then, each version required a response, a comparison, an opinion. You don’t have to like it, but you must at least care about it.)
McKenzie is the type of human that comes with a soundtrack. One Sunday morning, he was home from college and came into my room to wake me up; I was annoyed but appreciative that his version of an alarm clock involved rifling through my CDs looking for the perfect Sunday wake-up song (Jackson Browne, The Load Out.) I once came to meet him for a weekend home with our parents in MN and was delighted to discover he had 5th-row center Neil Young tickets (great seats, we agreed, but not as much fun as concerts are when you’re in GA.)
In celebration of one of my first jobs, he armed me for my commute to a suburban office park with a mix where every track was “Damn it feels good to be a gangsta” (Never one to let a good movie quote go by, I appreciated him paying tribute to the movie Office Space so thoroughly)
My second favorite rant of his is the one where he concedes that digital music streaming is net-net a good thing, but will always be objectively terrible, you can’t even HEAR that one tone shift at minute 13:46 of the 1993 version of Northern Lights, I mean *honestly* why even *bother*; My first favorite rant is his exuberant championing of Weird Al Yankovic as one of our generation’s great musicians (“he goes from pop music to rap to polka! Show me another musician even CLOSE to as talented!”)
McKenzie died, and it doesn’t make sense. I was counting on decades of conversations over crosswords and coffee, late-night walkabouts with dogs, and tequila. I was waiting to commiserate with a teenage Georgia about her crazy dad and his love, stupid jokes and how deeply I could relate to every time she thought she was done listening to multiple versions of a Dead song he’d bust out with a Widespread Panic riff and before you know it’s 3 am and Lord, can’t a girl get some sleep?
McKenzie made me a CD many years ago that included a Widespread Panic cover of “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” I can find decent quality versions of Widespread doing this song- 2014 is good, 2009 passable, 2011 will get you halfway there. But 2006 is the version I want, and I think McKenzie would appreciate my inflexibility on this point. Regardless, please come ready to discuss it— Professor Lewis is expecting nothing less.