When Martin Mackey was a teacher at the REAL School on Mackworth Island and trees fell on the property, he taught his students how to mill the wood and build a tongue-and-groove shed. For physical education class, he took them on adventures kayaking, hiking and rock climbing.

“He was a very out-of-the-box kind of innovative thinker,” said his sister, Marisa Mackey, of Tempe, Arizona. “He loved finding that spark in each child and developing that so they would feel like they had something special to offer the world. He did that for every student. He saw the potential and good in everyone.”

Mackey died April 20 while surfing with his son, Wyeth, off Lecount Hollow Beach in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He was 47.

Martin Mackey Photo courtesy of Marisa Mackey

He was known for his creative thinking, positive outlook and adventurous spirit.

He began teaching at the REAL School in 2006 and taught for about a decade before taking on the roles of vice principal and principal.

Mackey lived by the motto, “Maintain a healthy disregard for the impossible.” He was an innovator who challenged the status quo and brought fun, laughter and boundless energy to his classroom, where he often wore shorts, flip-flops and hoodies.


“If you asked Martin what he was up to, he’d usually answer, ‘Changin’ lives,’ and that would be the truth,” said Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin, former principal of the REAL School, an alternative school for students who have not thrived in traditional classroom settings. “He was one of the most intuitive educators I’ve ever known. He relentlessly believed in every one of his students until they were able to believe in themselves. …”

The news of Mackey’s sudden death has been tough on former students and faculty. Many have shared memories and photos in an online tribute.

“It was because of this man I pushed so hard to graduate,” wrote one former student, Tyla Hudson. “He pushed his students and believed in all of them when they didn’t believe in themselves. He was someone you could always count on.”

Eric Neat shared a photo of himself and Mackey with their arms around each other. Neat thanked Mackey for never giving up on him, and said he was the best principal he’d had.

“He was so friendly and fun to talk to that nobody really even saw him as just ‘the guy in charge.’ Martin had a certain energy and kindness that made us want to give him our respect. All of the esteem and admiration we gave him was truly deserving, too,” Neat wrote.

In 2018, Mackey became principal of Nobleboro Central School. In 2020, he took on a new role with the Maine Department of Education, as director of the Rethinking Responsive Education Venture. The project was designed to create innovative pilot programs that would give all students access to high-quality remote learning.


Martin Mackey with his wife, Jennifer, and their two children, Elise and Wyeth. Photo courtesy of Marisa Mackey

“Innovation requires courage and a willingness to break out of doing what we have always done, because we always have,” Mackey wrote in a Press Herald opinion column last December.

In the online tribute, Gregg Palmer said Mackey led with his heart, not a policy book or set of protocols.

“His many years of reaching out to students in need and helping them climb back on the path and take the next step forward will live on,” Palmer wrote.

Mackey lived in Brunswick with his wife, Jennifer, and their two children Elise, 17, and Wyeth, 15.

The obituary written by his family said he was proud of his kids and found joy in what he called “human-powered adventures.”

Mackey was an extreme endurance athlete, who shared his passion for cycling, canoeing, skiing, climbing, surfing and skateboarding with his family. In the online tribute, he can be seen after a bike ride, covered in sweat and mud and flashing a wide, toothy smile. Photos show him cross-country skiing, on winter hikes, standing atop mountains.


“You name it, he did it,” his sister said. “He was an extreme lover of all things outdoors in nature.”

Marisa Mackey said his family would join hers in Arizona every Christmas. They’d plan active family adventures, horseback riding and hiking.

“He and Jen would always get up early and go to the mountain for a run or a bike ride and then convene with the rest of the family for more hiking and fun,” she said. “He was such a great uncle.”

Many people in Mackey’s inner circle spoke of the strength of his friendship. He was the one a lot of them turned to for advice, encouragement and support. He was up for anything, they said. He was hilarious. He also was thoughtful and kind.

“He loved extravagantly,” his sister said.

Mackey had gone to Cape Cod to surf with his son and a good friend. He’d been surfing for about 15 minutes when he appeared to lose consciousness, his sister said. Other surfers carried him out of the water and performed CPR, but efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. An autopsy was performed to determine how he died. The results are pending.

A friend set up a GoFundMe campaign to help support Mackey’s wife and children. As of Thursday night, it had raised nearly $37,000 of the $40,000 goal.

A memorial service was to be held Friday at 11 a.m. at The Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing on Mackworth Island.

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