Renaissance man Bob MacKenzie — a magician, fly-fisherman, dancer, legendary Bay Area news reporter and UC Berkeley alumnus — died Thursday morning after battling cancer for seven years. He was 75.
Though Bob MacKenzie led a rich life outside of work, he made his biggest mark as a feature reporter at the Bay Area news station KTVU, where he worked for over 30 years, earning 13 local Emmys as well as numerous other awards.
“A thousand people could look at the same thing, and he’d be the one who could see what was unusual or special,” said KTVU News Director Ed Chapuis. “He was a good observer of human beings.”
After growing up in Oakland, MacKenzie graduated from UC Berkeley in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He then worked at the Oakland Tribune and TV Guide before joining KTVU in 1978.
“Our news director just took a chance on him,” said KTVU reporter Rita Williams. “He didn’t fit the Ken and Barbie mold. He didn’t look like what maybe you’d think a TV person would look like, but it didn’t matter. He was real.”
Williams still laughs remembering one of Bob MacKenzie’s first stories, when he covered the new sensation Pop Rocks. He put some in his mouth and held the microphone close so everyone could hear the “snap, crackle and pop,” Williams said.
While Bob MacKenzie covered a variety of stories, he was known for his well-written features that approached the story from an uncommon angle.
“Everyone has a different favorite Bob MacKenzie story,” Chapuis said, recalling one story about a church with only three parishioners left. “It was one of those stories that only Bob could write.”
John MacKenzie, his younger brother and chief photographer at KTVU, said his fondest memories of working with his brother were the drives, when the two relaxed and talked about anything from family to women to politics.
When recalling a time when he was 16, John MacKenzie said his brother drove up to their family home in a lavender convertible, gave him the keys and told him to have fun and impress his girlfriend.
“He was always my hero because he was older — he was always cool,” John MacKenzie said. “I always really looked up to him — up until the day he died.”
KTVU anchor Frank Somerville said he watched Bob MacKenzie while he was growing up, only to end up working alongside him for about 15 years. Somerville said Bob MacKenzie walked to his own beat, and he recalled instances when he would come to the office with mismatched socks or a coffee stain on his shirt that he had not even noticed.
“What a study of contrast he is,” Somerville said. “Absent-minded, goofy guy who then goes out and blows everyone away — and I mean everybody — with how he covers a story.”
And despite his reputation, Somerville said Bob MacKenzie did not try to impress people with his many journalism awards.
The family is planning to hold a private service, and John MacKenzie said there will be another service in the future where, as Bob MacKenzie had requested, everyone will tell jokes together and eat ice cream.
“I think the main thing about my brother was — he inherited it from my mother — he was a person who looked only for the best in people, and he could find something nice to say about anyone,” John MacKenzie said. “If everybody could be that way, it would be a better world.”