James Mack, government employee


James Andrew Mack, a retired government equal employment opportunity specialist, died July 17 of cancer at his home in Pimlico. He was 61.

He retired in August 1990 from the U.S. Department of Energy, where he handled equality issues for 18 years.

Mr. Mack started as an EEO specialist with the Maryland Department of Labor in 1965.

"He was the first black student to graduate East Tennessee State College, and with honors," said his wife, Arliss Mack. "No sports. He was a bookworm."

Mrs. Mack, the former Arliss Goines, and her husband grew up together in Johnson City, Tenn., about 100 miles northeast of Knoxville. Mrs. Mack said it was no surprise to anyone when they married in 1962.

"We grew up together, I mean, lived near each other, went to Sunday school together, everything," she laughed, as she recalled their childhood. "We were good friends."

Mr. Mack left school in the early 1950s and enlisted in the military.

"He had no business in there because he was too young. Lied about his age," said Mrs. Mack of her husband's brief time in the Navy and Air Force. "But at the time, that's what young boys wanted to do."

He returned to the local Langston High School to receive his high school diploma before entering Morehouse College in Atlanta to study political science.

He left Morehouse and entered predominantly white East Tennessee State College, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1961.

Once they were married, the Macks moved to Maryland, and Mr. Mack got a job with the state Department of Labor.

In the Pimlico neighborhood where he and his wife raised their three children, he took part in the "community parenting" that was prevalent in the area at the time.

The now-grown children who once played outside his former rowhouse on Chalgrove Avenue remember the man who never hesitated to reprimand them and guided them when they strayed.

"He was a man that demanded respect, and he got it," said Crystal Johnson, 35, who grew up in the neighborhood and is a close family friend.

Ms. Johnson and many of those "children" visited Mr. Mack in his Manhattan Avenue home as his illness progressed. He remembered each one of them and reminded them that they were special people to him, to the world, and most of all, to themselves.

"All of you have done good by us, and by yourselves," he told one group of visitors a few weeks ago.

"You've made us proud. You've made me proud. And you should be happy," he said.

Mr. Mack was formerly a member of Pennsylvania Avenue AME Zion Church and had recently joined Ebenezer AME Church on West Montgomery Street.

He enjoyed watching football and bowling.

Other survivors include two sons, James Purnell Mack and Kirk Mack; a daughter, Vanessa Mack, known locally as African storyteller Nzinga Ama, all of Baltimore; three brothers, William M. Ervin of Cleveland, Louis Mack of Victorville, Calif., and Billy Mack of Baltimore; a sister, Delila Sparks of Johnson City, Tenn.; and three grandchildren.

Funeral services for Mr. Mack were held Thursday at the Gary P. March Funeral Home.

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