By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Paul McKenzie, 53, a D.C. community organizer and political activist, died Feb. 21 of complications of pneumonia at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Mr. McKenzie, who moved with his family to Ward 4's Shepherd Park in 1994, took on a number of neighborhood issues over the years, including the closure of Klingle Road, the east-west route through Rock Creek Park that was shut down after it flooded in 1991.
Mr. McKenzie and his fellow east-of-the-park residents wanted the road reopened; their opponents, largely west of the park, supported plans by then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to convert Klingle into a recreational path.
Committed to making sure that Shepherd Park remained an attractive, diverse neighborhood, Mr. McKenzie also served as president of the Friends of the Juanita E. Thornton/Shepherd Park branch library.
As an active member of the William R. Singleton-Hope-Lebanon No. 7 Masonic Lodge, he was involved with a Mason-sponsored project to plant trees across the District. Trees were important to him. He badgered the D.C. Council last year to water 225 newly planted trees along North Capitol Street.
Mr. McKenzie, a Ward 4 Democratic Party representative, had planned to run for the D.C. school board but changed his mind a few days before his death.
"He was a Deaniac to the extreme -- even post-scream," his wife, Trish McKenzie, recalled. "He thought Howard Dean was the man."
More recently, he was involved in an effort to draft former vice president Al Gore to run for president.
"Paul McKenzie was interested in everything; D.C. was his neighborhood," said WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin in a broadcast shortly after Mr. McKenzie's death. "In the best tradition of civic activism, Paul energetically and passionately participated. Politics to him was a noble calling."
Paul Ross McKenzie was born in Los Angeles and grew up in East Lansing, Mich. He was a 1975 English graduate of Olivet College in Michigan and received a master's degree in information management from Syracuse University in New York in 1999.
From 1975 to 1978, he taught English, coached basketball and developed a tree nursery as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo, in West Africa. The Peace Corps, his wife said, was one of the formative experiences of his life.
In 1980, he moved to Washington, where he joined the Department of the Navy. At the time of his death, he was deputy director for technology integration for the Naval Surface Warfare Center of the Naval Sea Systems Command. One of his aims, his wife said, was to strengthen ties with U.S. allies in various research and development projects.
Mr. McKenzie, whose parents were Canadian and who loved spending summers at the family's ancestral farm in Ontario, also was a hockey enthusiast. He played with an adult recreational team in Rockville that calls itself the Red Army and founded the high school hockey team at Washington International School. He also coached various teams with the Montgomery Youth Hockey Association.
"Personal power and ambition was not his driving force, but making D.C. a better place -- that was always his goal," Plotkin said in his radio commentary. "Paul McKenzie was a lively, dedicated and sincere public citizen. This city can never have enough Paul McKenzies."
Survivors include his wife of 20 years and two children, Margaret Lettice McKenzie and Alexander Heady McKenzie, all of the District; his mother, Lettice McKenzie of the District; and a sister.