1933 - 2016
In June 1986, Sally Mack, clasping hands with her husband and sons, walked onto the Nevada Test Site to protest the US government's nuclear weapons testing program. They and 144 others were arrested for trespassing, for which Sally spent 5 days in jail. It was a consummate moment in Sally's life, uniting her two strongest impulses – love for those closest to her and a commitment to making the world better for everyone. Later she wrote that what enabled her to convert her fear into action was "sharing the fear and love and conviction of hundreds of wonderful people, and especially my own family."
Born May 19, 1933 to Julius and Mary Stahl, Sally grew up in Oil City, PA, in one of the few Jewish families in town. During WWII, a friend told her, "My mother says if Germany wins we can't be friends anymore." Yet she overcame her outsider status – getting elected as her high school's beauty queen, winning the Emily Post Good Manners award, and editing the school newspaper.
In 1955, after graduating from the University of Michigan, Sally went to the newly created state of Israel as part of a Quaker work camp, working alongside Arabs and Jews and developing a lifelong commitment to bridging their divide. Later, she earned her masters in social work, and began her career in Boston, where she met Dr. John Mack, whom she married in 1959. They raised three sons in Brookline, MA, where they lived until their separation in 1993. Dr. Mack became a renowned Harvard psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
Sally was known as an exceptional social worker who combined deep empathy with an incisive analytical mind. She focused on families of young children, tackling such difficult issues as child sexual abuse and terminally ill children. She was the only social worker on the neonatal intensive care unit at Boston's Children's Hospital, where she one of the first to advocate for the rights of parents of premature babies. She became a sought-after national leader, chairing the National Association of Perinatal Social Workers' social action committee, and in 1997 winning the organization's Award for Excellence. She later co-founded the Schwartz Center at Mass. General Hospital, dedicated to the importance of compassionate healthcare for both patients and caregivers, which now exists in 375 hospitals nationwide.
Relationships mattered most to Sally, and in return she garnered deep devotion from family, friends, and colleagues. She always listened with full attention and curiosity, offering insight without judgment, and with genuine caring and compassion. Countless younger friends found in her the mother they wished they'd had. For younger women she was a role model, thanks to her ability to combine nurturing relationships, an accomplished career, and impassioned activism, all with utter humility and authenticity.
Sally leaves three sons, Danny, Ken and Tony Mack; four grandchildren, Ari, Cai, Leila and Eric; a devoted partner, Irving Exter; and innumerable friends and family members. For information about services and more, go to: forevermissed.com/sally-mack.
Published in New York Times from Mar. 30 to Mar. 31, 2016.