William MacKaye, a Washington Post editor, dies at 89

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William R. MacKaye, a journalist who spent two decades at The Washington Post, initially as a reporter and editor of religious affairs and then as an editor on the paper’s now-defunct magazine, died Aug. 21 at a hospital in New Haven, Conn. He was 89.

The cause was complications from a fall, said his son Alec MacKaye, a hardcore punk singer and songwriter.

Early in his career, Mr. MacKaye (rhymes with sky) was a Washington correspondent filing stories for both the Houston Chronicle and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and he was in Dallas to cover the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963.

The next year, Mr. MacKaye was traveling with President Lyndon B. Johnson to a Miami hotel for a campaign stop when thousands of supporters grew so aggressively enthusiastic that policemen intervened to prevent the president from being injured. Mr. MacKaye said that about eight policemen grabbed him roughly and carried him from the hotel lobby to the street. He explained who he was and flashed his press credentials, only to be told they were the “wrong kind.”

A former Episcopal seminarian, he left the politics beat in 1966 to join the religion desk at The Post as a way to combine his spiritual and journalistic interests, and colleagues admiringly referred to him as “Father MacKaye.” Following a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University in 1975, he found himself with a new boss and eventually shifted to The Post’s magazine as an associate editor.

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The magazine’s editor at the time, Laura Longley, said she instantly handed to Mr. MacKaye stories that came in thousands of words over the assigned limit, because he was such a dependable colleague and top-notch wordsmith. “He could finesse it to the point where even the author could accept it,” she said. “I could count on him to clean up anything and make it read better.”

Mr. MacKaye was a freelance writer in subsequent years and became chief executive of In Trust, an organization that teaches principles of good governance to the boards and administrators of North American theological schools.

William Ross MacKaye was born in Manhattan on June 1, 1934, and grew up mostly in Washington. His father, Milton, was a magazine writer and book ghostwriter, and his mother, who wrote under the name Dorothy Cameron Disney, was a mystery novelist and marital advice columnist for Ladies’ Home Journal.

He graduated in 1951 from the private Sidwell Friends School and in 1955 from Harvard University, and then spent a year doing postgraduate work at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan before entering journalism as a reporter at the Minneapolis Star.

He was a chairman of the now-defunct Washington Free Clinic and a member of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in the District. He was a resident of Washington but died while staying at a longtime summer residence in Guilford, Conn.

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He was married to the former Mary Anne “Ginger” Garner from 1956 until her death in 2004. In addition to his son Alec, of Washington, survivors include four other children, Katharine MacKaye and Ian MacKaye of Washington, Susannah MacKaye of Oakland, Calif., and Amanda MacKaye of Arlington, Va.; and three grandchildren.

Three of his children — Alec, Ian and Amanda — had careers in punk rock. “We were always told to enjoy ourselves while we do what we do,” Alec MacKaye said. “He was very supportive of everyone’s creative endeavors. That was more important to him than career ambitions.”

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