All of us in the photography, communications, publishing worlds in Barrie breathed a heavy sigh last week. The man who anchored much of our work died very suddenly on January 18.
George Mackie’s name conjures up its individual image for every person who knew him. George would be very surprised at ripples of angst his passing is causing… “if he thought he did a good job, that was enough,” said his wife, Pat, this week. “He’d be shocked to think someone would want to write about him!”
For Georgian College employees George was the guy who for nine years taught in the audio-visual department. For Georgian students George was the teacher who really wanted them to know by experiencing, by trying again, by succeeding, by understanding the art of photography, developing and enhancement.
For Georgian teachers, George was a calm influence, the guy who never got flustered but who knew what he was doing. For support staff, George was the guy who did the film work on brochures, manuals, advertisements, backdrops for trade shows… the colourful public face of Georgian College.
But when George decided to strike out on his own, establishing Mackie Custom Photo Lab in 1987, he became the silent right arm of photographers all over the region. When their labs shut down or last minute orders plagued their schedules, George was there to work magic on film, re-touch pictures with just the right hue, work darkroom wonder on documents of vision.
And when George started his own business, in his typical fashion he provided almost immediate employment for his start student, an advertising and marketing graduate who was a photographer in his own right. Bill Mercer has been the front office face of Mackie Custom Photo Lab for the past 12 years. And last week, Bill’s light went out when George’s enlarged heart stopped beating.
“I was just spinning last week” commented Bill as he re-lives his working life with George. “George was such a nice guy, right at his core being.” He left Georgian because he figured he’d be phased out anyway, and once he started on his own, he worked so, so hard. He put in a lot of 20-hour days, for years, and he never complained. He never got upset. He always wanted to make it better.
“At some point we dealt with every photographer in Barrie and photographers are very picky. George always wanted to do his best.”
Bill recalls that when George first opened the business, he and Bill each did whatever had to be done to get work out. As the business fell into its own rhythm, though, Bill became the receiver of orders, the guy who listened to what people wanted, the person who heard the stories about the century-old photograph with the rip across Grandmother’s face. George was the one who dashed back and forth from colour darkroom to black & white darkroom. George used his electronic wizardry to make old equipment do what digital equipment professes to achieve.
George basically ran a general store.
Bill recalls one incident where George maintained his meticulous attention to detail on a photograph that an elderly woman had brought in. The image wasn’t coming out just right, and George fiddled for the better part of an hour and a half. His employee tried to chide him: “George, you’ve just spent an hour and a half on a two-dollar job for a customer!” Bill remembers the lesson from his teacher that day: “Yeah. She is the nicest old lady.”
Many photographers in town echo the general store feeling. “It was like walking into a general store. There was a sense of community there. No matter how you were feeling when you arrived, you always felt good when you left.”
Phil Steingard was a regular customer of George’s midnight magic. In fact, Phil recalls what he called his midnight runs… he’d be coming home from a long day himself, and would rap on the Mackie Lab door. It would be shortly after midnight. “In a few minutes, George would appear, fresh from the darkroom, in jogging pants and a sweatshirt. He’d open the door; we’d talk about business; I’d give him my films. I’d go home.
“George would go back to the darkroom.”
Custom photo work is a difficult business, it’s labour-intensive; it demands a sensitive touch; at Mackie Lab the work is all done by hand.
And while photography, developing and printing, was George’s passion in life, it was energy shared with his wife, Pat and his kids, Jennifer and Craig. Pat says she was 17 and George was 21 when they met. After five years of dating, they tied a knot that lasted a lifetime. Why? Because their opposite energies were magnet. “I see the glass as half empty; I’m the pessimist. George sees it half full. Always. He was so easy gloing, so calm, so optimstic. He never got bent out of shape about things, he said it took too much energy. That same focus recently completed their dream home which Pat says became a focus for their life together.
Their adult children make them both proud. Daughter Jennifer lives in South Carolina, and works in the audiology field. Son Craig manages the National Sports store in Barrie and has his father’s kn ack for taking apart and putting together electronic equipment of all kinds. Together they will build a new reality of their family life, but they’ll certainly carry with them the mantra that was, and is, George.
He was such a nice guy.