Over 150 friends, family members and colleagues of the late UCSB Police Chief John MacPherson gathered Thursday morning to honor and speak fondly of their friend “Mac,” who died Jan. 14 from cancer.
MacPherson, 57, spent 33 years with the UCSB Police Dept., including 16 years as chief. He joined the UCSB force in 1970 and spent a year as lieutenant at UC Davis in the 1970s before returning to Santa Barbara. MacPherson retired in early 2004 after being diagnosed with lung cancer. The memorial and funeral with full police honors took place at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara and drew colleagues from the force as well as from the university.
Sgt. Suzanne Malloy, who worked with MacPherson for 29 years, said she remembered him best for his impressive height, hearty laugh and concern for those around him.
“He was one of the first people I met in the department and I went to him in his office — he had a little crummy office,” Malloy said. “He was a big man and he seemed to fill up the whole room. That’s always been my image of him… he really cared about department members in need — people with disabilities, problems, traumas. He always made sure the department could accommodate them.”
Yonie Harris, UCSB Dean of Students, said MacPherson strove to promote such nonviolent demonstrations as Thursday’s walkout. He started a program in which police officers went to the dorms to speak to residents, and Harris said he connected well with students.
“He was always trying to make sure students knew what was going on,” Harris said. “He had such an easy way about him that our students have always felt they had a right to express themselves… It’s a tribute to him that students will be out expressing their political views peacefully… He left us a roadmap of how to relate to students.”
UC Riverside Police Chief Hank Rosenfeld said his first memory of MacPherson was in the 1970s when Fleetwood Mac was scheduled to play at UCSB. The concert was canceled due to rain and Rosenfeld said MacPherson volunteered to be the one to inform the long line of soggy students waiting for the band.
“We’re all in raingear and wearing helmets, but Mac’s looks like it was eight sizes too small and it was just sitting on top of his head,” Rosenfeld said. “And he goes into the line of people and starts talking to people and I see there’s not a riot. All I see is this helmet bobbing around. I learned some important people skills from Mac.”
Cheri Gurse, former coordinator of UCSB Women’s Center Rape Prevention Education Program, said she remembered MacPherson’s sensitivity and kindness when they worked together to quell crime at UCSB.
“We were creating a good atmosphere at UCSB for women and Mac was a part of that all along,” Gurse said. “He had such a great way about him with sensitivity and respect and just caring.”
Deputy Sheriff Allen Selander said he met Macpherson when he was still a student at UCSB wondering about the police force.
“I viewed him as a man-mountain,” Selander said. “I sort of thought he was a jerk when I first met him because when I went to shake his hand, he almost crushed mine… I didn’t argue with him, I let whatever he said go and I enjoyed whatever time I spent with him.”
Macpherson split his time between his duties as chief and volunteering at Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Santa Barbara, the Cub Scouts, Little League baseball, and coaching a basketball team at Lompoc Middle School.
MacPherson is survived by his wife, Cindy, and sons, Matthew and Brian. The MacPherson family has created a scholarship called The John L. MacPherson, Jr. Scholarship Fund to continue his tradition of giving.