The first and only female executive director for USPA, Laura MacKenzie passed away after a long illness on Saturday, May 22. MacKenzie was the executive director from December 1, 1976, until March 1978, and was the first staff member hired by then-Executive Director Donald Beach when USPA moved from Monterey, California, in 1975. As the executive director, MacKenzie handled everything from hiring staff, accounting and office administration to acting as assistant meet director of the 1976 USPA National Championships.
An avid supporter of skydiving competition and the U.S. Parachute Team, MacKenzie made a lasting impact on the sport of skydiving, especially during her time at USPA Headquarters. She wrote a column each month during her tenure titled “The Washington Update,” which she used to update members and encourage industry-wide support and donations for the U.S. Parachute Team. In the March 1997 issue of Parachutist, MacKenzie writes a letter celebrating a milestone to fellow parachutists:
“The United States Parachute Team is now a separate corporation. Most importantly, it has an IRS section 170 (c) status, which means: All contributions to the U.S. Team are tax-deductible!”
In her letter to members from the October 1977 issue, MacKenzie explains some of the benefits of moving USPA Headquarters to Washington D.C.:
“The move to Washington D.C. has enabled USPA to develop closer communications with the FAA. Now, after two years, the FAA has come through with the answers to some of our petitions. They have determined that an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) is not required to be installed aboard aircraft engaged solely in parachute jumping operations. This is a step in the right direction for both parachutists and the FAA. This change will save money for drop zone operators and therefore you, the skydiver. We’re looking forward to more fruits in our developing relationship.”
MacKenzie was an active skydiver in the ’60s and ’70s and was on two U.S. Parachute teams, 1969 at the Adriatic Cup in Portoroz, Yugoslavia, and 1972 World Championships in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. She was Women’s Star Crest Recipient #2 and was a part of the first all-women 8-way star in Elsinore, California, on July 28, 1970. A strange quote from Parachutist says, "The tireless organizers decided that if there was enough time and light left at the end of the meet, the girls would be allowed to have a go at it." Jean Schultz and MacKenzie made the 2-way base in 15 seconds. Sheila Scott docked third. Ann Gardiner made the star a 4-way. Diane Bird made the fifth dock. Luena Garrison and Linda Padgett came in sixth and seventh and Patty Croceito finished the formation. They broke the star just above 3,000 feet, and they all landed to cheers from the observers on the ground. Carl Boenish, Ray Cottingham and John Randall filmed the dive.
MacKenzie is survived by her godson, Dylan, who writes “Godmother, skydiving champion, guitar player, cat owner, social worker, dog lover, fabric artist, blackbelt. Laura took one final jump into the unknown this past weekend. The world is better for having known her. She is missed.”
A true champion of skydiving, Laura MacKenzie will be affectionately remembered for her contributions to skydiving. Now she will forever enjoy the Blue Skies.