Citizen Mack Part 1

April 2, 2021
By BBadmin7502

By T. MICHELE WALKER – “Citizen Mack” is a two-part series on Connie Mack and his new memoir, “Citizen Mack: Politics, an Honorable Calling.”
    Connie Mack shot his age on the golf course last Monday. The location was the Lemon Bay Golf Club while golfing with his friend, Dod Fraser, host of the Friends of Boca Grande Livestream chat which discussed his memoir, “Citizen Mack: Politics, an Honorable Calling.”
“The lecture was hatched on the golf course as an excuse to talk about his golf game,” laughed Fraser. “Not that he’s that old, it was an 80.”
“It’s got to be one of the more exciting points of my life,” joked Mack.
A captivating read, Mack’s book reflects on a time when politics was a more civil, decent, and gentlemanly sport. David Lawrence, retired publisher of the Miami Herald who wrote the foreword, described Mack as, “A public servant who never bragged despite having the credibility to do so. I am reminded of the words of the great pitcher Dizzy Dean: ‘Bragging ain’t bragging if it’s true.’”
Turns out that the baseball reference is appropriate, as Mack’s grandfather, a famous baseball manager, is also named Connie Mack. “The name that’s really on my passport is Cornelius McGillicuddy the III. My father and my grandfather, Cornelius McGillicuddy have always been called Connie Mack,” Mack explains. “Connie Mack is a pretty special name. I was told early on in my political career by Arthur Finkelstein, my political consultant, he said ‘Connie, just remember one thing. Your name will allow you to be listened to one time. If you don’t have anything to say, they won’t listen to you again.’ In other words, get over it, you got a lot of work to do.”
Mack was surrounded by influential family and while their advice was practical, and wise, Mack’s mother offered more literate pointers. “She always told me to never end a sentence with a preposition. Her dad wrote a book on Shakespeare and mother loved Shakespeare. After I was elected to the house, she sent me a letter and in that letter, she quoted from Julius Caesar, ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.’”
His father’s advice was less poetic but prophetic. “Probably the most important advice I received from him in the political environment is don’t you ever let them talk you into running for president.”
Raised in Florida, a graduate of the University of Florida, a community banker in the Fort Myers area where he raised his two children with his high school sweetheart wife Priscilla, Mack was called to public service and spent six years in the House of Representatives, 12 in the Senate. At the height of his popularity, he retired to private life on Palm Island, dedicating himself to making the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute what it is today.
Palm Island, a tropical paradise just off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Southwest, FL is a bridgeless barrier island accessible only by boat or car ferry ensuring its tranquility and exclusivity. “The main thing that attracted Priscilla and me to Palm Island was the fact that it reminded us of old Florida, the way it used to be. The funny thing about Floridians is that they tend to vacation in the state and our family was no different. We used to spend our vacations on the coast in cottages on the beach. When Priscilla and I found Palm Island, we felt like we found paradise and were drawn to the peaceful island reminiscent of old Florida.”
With a dedication borne from personal experience, Mack’s passion for cancer research and treatment has been a dominant theme for most of his career, originating from his family. “One of my younger brothers, Michael, was diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 23. He was in his senior year of law school at the University of Florida and had to have radical neck surgery. He did not drop out of school. He finished that third year, graduated number one in his class with high honors. Michael, Dennis and I were very close so Michael’s death had an enormous impact on me. We spent a lot of time talking about the meaning and purpose of life. It’s a question I still ask from time to time; what’s the meaning and purpose, why are you here and what are you supposed to be doing with your life.”

In deciding to move from the world of banking to public service, Mack faced several hurdles, the most important being the reaction of his wife, Priscilla. “ I’ve often thought that when I went home that day and said to Priscilla, ‘What would you say if I told you I was thinking about running for congress?’ She said, ‘Great! Go for it.’ But if she had said something else, who knows where my life would have ended.”
As Mack explains in his book, “We had been a team, Priscilla and I, since long before I first came to Washington in 1983 as a member of the House. We had been what can quaintly be described as ‘sweethearts’ since I was in the tenth grade and Pris was in the ninth. And we still are.”
Priscilla was always a supportive wife but made it clear from the outset that she had three limitations. “Three things she wouldn’t do, no speeches, no press, and no fundraising,” Mack explained. “She also said to me, ‘If you’re going to complain about something, why don’t you do something about it.’”
“Arthur said that there are three types of spouses of candidates. One, the kind who hates politics. The second wants to be the candidate and the third is supportive. And of course, Pris was unbelievably supportive. There’s a story she loves to tell where she’s out knocking on doors, perspiration is pouring off her in the middle of August down here in Naples. She’s knocking on doors to get people to vote for her husband and this guy comes to the door. She makes her spiel and the fellow says, ‘Do you think that my wife would do this for me?’ Priscilla says, ‘If she loves you as much as I love my husband, she would.’ There is no better support.”
“On a serious note, spouses, male or female spouses, have a very difficult life because even when supportive, they don’t control their lives at all. There were some tough times to get through but she was always there, always supportive. Then she had breast cancer and she fought that and won and she became an advocate. I’m very proud of her.”
A hard-working, dedicated wife and mother who always keeps her cosmetology license renewed and current, “Just in case,” Priscilla faced breast cancer like a warrior. “I was stunned,” recalled Mack. “That news hit me hard. Harder than anything since Michael.”
Priscilla fought and won her battle with breast cancer and in the process broke the three rules she set so many years earlier. She spoke in public, raised a lot of money, and was interviewed by the press. “It wasn’t long before she got good at talking about it, and this led to more and more requests, and she didn’t turn any of them down. She would get right into the reality of her experience and tell women what it was like, for instance, to lose your hair when you were doing chemo.”
Cancer has touched his life in many ways, from his wife to his brother and even a personal diagnosis of melanoma. Mack’s work with H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute has been a driving force in his post-Washington years. “Through Lee Moffitt, the man who’s responsible for creating the Moffitt Cancer Center, he and I had several conversations that lasted six months. He said, ‘Connie, I know you’re the kind of person that if you say yes, you’ll want to be involved. We want you to be the chairman of the board.’”
For Mack, the decision to join the Moffitt Cancer Center was the logical next step after his work in Washington. As a senator, he was deeply involved in medical research issues, which led him to lead the fight, doubling the NIH budget, increasing cancer research.
“As it turned out, it brought me back to the conversation I had with my brother, Michael; ‘What’s the meaning and purpose of your life?’ I made the commitment because of Michael’s death. We’re going to find a cure for melanoma. Melanoma is one of the deadliest cancers there is, so when I had my first meeting with the new executive of the Moffitt Cancer Center, I said ‘There’s only that one thing I want to talk to you about tonight, and that is that I want to make Moffitt the number one, the Premier Melanoma Treatment and Research Center in the country. For that matter, maybe even in the world.’ Becoming a chairman at Moffitt gave me the opportunity to contribute to what I believed would be a long journey that might end in a cure,” said Mack.
With Moffitt close to the goal of becoming a leading – if not the leading – cancer facility in the world when it comes to dealing with melanoma, both in treatment and research, Mack’s journey has come full circle. “We’re not only on our way, we’re going to do it. I really feel like we have arrived at the point where we are curing melanoma. If Michael were here today, he would have lived a normal life. That’s a pretty proud, full circle, and a wonderful achievement.”
Citizen Mack, part two The Washington Years, explores how Connie Mack made the decision to dedicate his life to public service, the invitation to become a Vice Presidential running mate, and who was the senator he most admired while in office.