When I arrived in Atascadero in the summer of 1966, I became immediately fascinated with the large four-story building that anchored the Sunken Gardens in the middle of town.
At the first opportunity, I wandered down to the imposing structure and found an open door. Once inside, I stuck my head in a small room on the east end of the building and saw a woman rearranging books. I asked her about the building, and she gave me my first history lesson on Atascadero. The woman was Marjorie Mackey.
That was the beginning of a 43-year friendship. It didn’t happen overnight.
I became acquainted with her again six years later, when I became editor of the Atascadero News. I quickly learned that “Marj,” as she wanted to be known, had strong feelings about Atascadero, not only its past but what kind of community it would become.
Having moved here in 1961, she led a futile battle to save the E.G. Lewis estate from destruction in 1965. Failing to save the Lewis home from a practice burn, she formed the Atascadero Historical Society. She even bought Lewis’ small office building and had it moved behind her home on Tunitas Avenue.
As a member of the Advisory Committee, she helped draft the community’s first general plan that was adopted by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, and she later voted for it as a member of the first City Council. She was the first woman to serve as mayor of Atascadero.
She championed the public use and city ownership of Stadium Park. She helped dig weeds out of downtown sidewalks on cleanup days. I, along with many others, helped her carry water for small trees she had planted in Stadium Park. Fortunately, she stopped along the trail, so I could catch up. She fought for tree protection, large lots and preservation of the rural lifestyle in Atascadero.
I watched her vote for projects she absolutely hated but did so because the applicant had complied with all the rules in place at the time. As our friendship grew, she turned me into a local history junkie. With an excellent memory and great recall, she insisted that I keep our history alive and saw to it that I was named historian (in her place) for the Historical Society only last month. Marj Mackey will be deservedly honored by the City Council tonight for all that she did for this community. I am sad to report that Marj passed away last Friday night, a few days after I penned this column.