Barbara Mack

August 23, 2012

Service Details

Barbara Marie Mack, a passionate student of life who spread her zest for learning to her own students, family and friends, died unexpectedly at her home on Thursday. She was 59.

Barbara's two professional passions were the law and journalism, which she wove into a remarkable career that spanned four decades. A 26-year veteran of the Iowa State University faculty, Barbara was an associate professor and assistant director of Iowa State's Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication and a noted First Amendment lawyer. This was to be her last semester before retiring from teaching.

Barbara was born on October 26, 1952, in Des Moines, Iowa, to Eddie and Helen Mack. She wore her east-side roots as a badge of honor and graduated high school from the girls-only St. Joseph's Academy of Des Moines. She put herself through college in just three years, receiving a B.A. in journalism from Iowa State in 1974.

But by graduation time, Barbara was already at home in a newsroom. She started as a copy courier at age 16 with the Des Moines Register and Tribune Co., then rose to reporter after graduation, blazing the trail for Register women covering courts and crime news. From those earliest career days, she was passionate about First Amendment issues. She even helped found the Iowa Freedom of Information Council in 1975, a media organization dedicated to promoting openness in government.

Her love of the law drew her to Drake University Law School, where she also met her future husband Jim Giles. The couple later married on Barbara's birthday in, aptly chosen, Santa Barbara, CA. She received her Juris Doctor in 1977, and then joined the Register and Tribune's legal team, supporting First Amendment efforts throughout the state. She eventually rose to General Counsel of the Register and Tribune Company, overseeing the sale of that company to Gannett Co. in 1986.

Barbara then started a new chapter, moving from newsroom to classroom. She returned to Iowa State University as Professor Mack, where she became one of its most beloved faculty members. She gave aspiring journalists their first taste of the profession in introductory courses, and schooled student reporters on the finer points of journalism and the law in legal seminars, always with classroom antics that both entertained and inspired her students. She also provided students in other disciplines an opportunity to learn the basics of journalism and mass communications. Time for her students never stopped at the classroom door. Barbara generously served as career counselor, life coach and substitute "mom" to any student in need. From 1991-1993, Barbara stepped out of the classroom to serve as executive assistant to then-ISU President Martin Jischke. But her passion for teaching soon saw her back at the Greenlee School.

Her teaching achievements brought her many awards over the years including being among the first group of ISU faculty to win the college Master Teacher Award in 2000. She also received the college's Outstanding Introductory Teaching Award in 1995, and in 2011, won the ISU Alumni Association top award for Superior Service. She was also named the Louise Noun Visionary Woman by the Young Women's Resource Center in 2011. The center was a favorite cause of Barbara's, who could identify with its young women working to chart their own successful life paths. Her community service included several board memberships. She was a long-time advisor to the Iowa State Daily and most recently chaired the Editorial Integrity Committee for Iowa Public Television.

Barbara was known for her hearty laugh and her unique brand of humor. She employed it often to soften criticism, drive home a point, or just entertain. Her friends, and there were many, knew Barbara as someone who would spring to help if they were in need. Barbara adored animals, especially her horse Mikki and cats WhyNot and Mizewell. She also was an accomplished gourmet cook who hosted memorable multi-course dinners for friends. She was a lover of good food, which served her well during her years as the Register's Grumpy Gourmet restaurant critic. She also prized making things grow in her gardens. With her husband Jim, she shared passions for travel, especially to Paris, along with history and the arts.

Barbara was preceded in death by her father; mother; and her brother, Richard. She is survived by her husband; her sister, Anne Mack of Columbia, MO; her niece, Anne Piedade of Bedford, NY; and her nephew, Mark Kordick of Greenwich, CT, along with countless students, colleagues, neighbors and friends who admired and loved her and through whom her legacy will live on.

Memorial arrangements will be announced at a later date. Memorial contributions may be made to the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, Friends of Iowa Public Television or the Animal Rescue of League of Iowa.