In the Suburbs / Helping others track ancestors was in his genes
Published 6:46 am, Thursday, December 15, 2011
I'm fortunate to have worked with him at the museum during the 18 months before he passed away last week. Rod spent the last 33-plus years chronicling Fairfield's history, first at the former Fairfield Historical Society and since 2007 at the museum, and he was a highly respected genealogist.
I stood in the library that he called home for a few moments earlier this week, just looking at his desk and feeling the void left by his loss. Rod Mackenzie was energized and passionate about his work. This wasn't a job for him. It was a labor of love.
Rod's sincerity and desire to help people discover their roots was infectious, and he welcomed people from all over the world to the museum's library. He was probably as anxious to learn about their families and their Fairfield roots as they were. And at the time of his death he was working on improving his skills and making genealogy a household word.
Rod loved a good challenge. If a person came to him with a difficult problem, he'd think about it for a few minutes and then say, "We'll figure this out." And with childlike enthusiasm he'd set out to solve this new ancestral mystery.
When my wife and visited Rod briefly at the Carolton Convalescent Hospital less than two weeks ago, we thought he was getting better and he spoke of the day when he could return to the museum. "I'm looking forward to starting some physical therapy so I can get my legs stronger and get back to work," he had said. "I'm itching to get back to my desk, but I know it will take time."
Ron Blumenfeld, a friend who wrote the "Open Spaces" columns for the Fairfield Citizen and spent a lot of time picking Rod's brain for ideas, had no idea he had passed away.
"Rod was an authoritative resource and a tireless booster of Fairfield," Ron said. "A lifelong resident, much of his historical knowledge was first-hand. I think he personally experienced the last 20 percent of the town's history."
Ron admired his research skills.
"He was always able to dig up background material for my columns and could often add personal color," Ron said. "He and his friends blazed trails in open spaces before they were Open Spaces! I'll miss him."
Rod was the most patient and knowledgeable colleague one could have. Coming to the museum as I did -- with little experience in genealogy and local history -- I was all ears when he explained a particular part of our town history or spoke of some of the local celebrities who were buried in our various cemeteries.
I've never been much of a cemetery explorer, but after working with Rod and absorbing the knowledge he shared, I really came to enjoy getting out to these cemetery tours. We worked together on two -- one at the Greenfield Hill Cemetery, the other at the East Side Cemetery on the Old Post Road.
Rod was meticulous about identifying the various graves for visitors and making sure that just the right person would share stories about the lives of the interred. Some of these folks were living historians, and others were actual descendants of folks who were buried at the various cemeteries.
For instance, on our most recent tour of the East Cemetery this past spring, Rod assembled a lively group, and it was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Best of all, we managed to attract a lot of visitors and stayed ahead of the rain, which came later that day. Throughout the afternoon, Rod was excited about sharing this parcel of history with as many people as he could.
No tribute to Rod MacKenzie would be complete without mentioning how much he loved good food and especially sweets. Rod could devour pastries and never gain a pound. He loved desserts, and he loved celebrating everyone's birthdays because the cakes were always wonderful and Rod's sweet tooth was always satisfied. When we visited him at the hospital, we brought doughnut holes.
Roderick MacKenzie will always be remembered as a man who cared a lot about Fairfield and its people, and he touched many with his passion for helping folks find their ancestors. Rod made anyone who came to the Museum believe that everything was possible.
My colleague, Walt summed up Rod's legacy.
"At the end of the day, if there was anyone who didn't want any fuss made about him, it was Rod," Walt said. "He would be touched that people cared, but humble to the end. Rod wanted nothing more than to help as many people as he could to understand their family heritage."
He will be missed.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.