National Park Service
Person of the Month


This article first appeared in the Vol. 3 No. 12 (Nov. 1980) edition of the Courier.

Memories of Mac

Bob Flame Rocky Mountain Ranger
(2010 revised edition)

Many years ago I wrote a series of novels in which the principal character was a park ranger named Bob Flame. That I should have been asked to write a profile of John McLaughlin—Johnny Mac to most of us—is due. I am told, because it was he that I had in mind as Bob Flame. I have never been quite sure why I selected Johnny Mac as the prototype. At the time I didn't do it consciously but after my character began to take shape as the story progressed I realized who it was I was writing about. He fit perfectly—a young ranger, conscientious, likeable, with a great sense of humor, good looking and really dedicated to the parks. He was my friend for over 50 years and I never had any reason to modify that early appraisal of his qualities.

It began in 1928 when Mac came to Yellowstone National Park, a member of the first batch of college-trained, Civil Service rangers that also included George Baggley, Fred Johnston and others from the "ranger factory" at what was then Colorado A&M. Of his Yellowstone assignments I remember that he spent winters at Hell Roaring and Lake and that he spent one summer as Station Chief at Canyon. It was a special occasion when any of the men from the outlying stations skied in to Mammoth headquarters during the winter. There were get togethers and parties and I remember that Mac was once in for Thanksgiving dinner. He was one of the favorites among the new men; everybody liked him. Although somewhat slender, he was as wiry and tough as any. One thing I remember, no matter what the job—ski patrol or fighting fires—he would always come through it without a hair mussed!

It was in 1929 that Johnny Mac was transferred to Rocky Mountain as Chief Ranger. The following year I too was transferred to Rocky and our long friendship really began. I recall the evening of my first day, we ate dinner with Mac at "Ma " Derby's Hupp Hotel and afterward played a wild game of mini-golf. It was a pleasant evening and we had "old home week" talking about Yellowstone. During the next 3 years we saw Mac frequently—we lived but two doors away. I accompanied him on several ski trips and we went bowling together. After my divorce he more or less took me under his wing. I was always indebted to him for his consideration during the following months. We usually ate dinner together at the Hupp.

John McLaughlin
(aka, Bob Flame)

Mac was a favorite with the steady customers. Among these were the local high school teachers—all female—several of whom had more than a passing interest in this good-looking bachelor. He was congenial, but treated them equally, without favoritism. It was that winter that Mac had a serious case of pneumonia. Mother Derby had him moved into the Hupp where he received all possible attention from her and the "school marms."

As the CCC program got under way, Mac was temporarily assigned to Washington, D.C., as assistant to Chief Forester Coffman who supervised programs at NPS areas. I am hazy as to how long it was before he returned to Rocky Mountain. At least he was back to serve as my best man when I married Peg Mills in May 1935.

Late that fall, I transferred to the Field Division of Education in Berkeley, Calif. The following year Mac came to San Francisco as Assistant Regional Officer of Region IV. He played a large part in the CCC program for the region. Because he took an apartment on Durant in Berkeley, we saw a great deal of him. We had a house on Grizzly Peak Blvd., which became a gathering place for the numerous NPS people in from the field. Again, Mac was a favorite. He had the ability to make friends with everyone from babies to adults.

We never forgot one Thanksgiving dinner. In spite of all Mac's good qualities, I must admit one failing—he was frequently late. At this particular dinner he was to pick up Mother Derby who was visiting in San Francisco. They were 3 hours late. The group didn't mind too much since the partying was at its height. Peg spluttered and told the story of the date she had had with Mac once before our marriage. He was so late she had given up and gone to bed.

Our daughter, Patricia, was born in February 1937, and this time Mac arrived at Alta Bates Hospital almost as soon as we did. We had a long wait sitting outside the delivery room. Incidentally he was godfather to the baby and presented her with a savings bond.

In 1937 Mac was transferred back to Rocky Mountain as assistant superintendent. After that we were together infrequently but had a warm, friendly, if sporadic, correspondence. In 1927 or 1928 he married Charlotte Newell. They had a son, Roger, named for Park Superintendent Roger Toll. In 1942 they were transferred to Mesa Verde, Mac as Superintendent. He and Charlotte were divorced in 1943.

While at Shepherd Field in World War II, Mac met Genevieve, a civilian Air Force employee. They were later married and had two children, a daughter, Gail and a son, Eddie, named for Edmund Rogers.

After his discharge as Lieutenant Colonel in January 1946, he returned briefly to Mesa Verde and then was appointed superintendent of Grand Teton National Park. In 1950 he became assistant regional director for the Midwest Region. In 1955 he went to Grand Canyon as superintendent and stayed 9 years. In 1964 he returned to Yellowstone—the park where he had entered the Service as a fledgling ranger 36 years before—as superintendent. In 1967 he moved to his final field assignment as superintendent of Sequoia-Kings Canyon where he remained until he retired June 30, 1973.

In 1966, 7 years before his retirement, he received the Distinguished Service Award. The next year he was given the Colorado State Alumnus Award.

Both before and after Mac's retirement, his expertise as park planner and park administrator was recognized by a series of assignments that took him to many parts of the world.

I am indebted to Mac's widow, Genevieve, for this summary of his varied special assignments. In 1962, he was a member of the team that studied the national parks of Tanzania under the auspices of the New York Zoological Society. The following year he represented the NPS at the Technical Meetings of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Nairobi, Kenya. That same year, as a member of the National Parks Commission of the IUCN, he toured Albert National Park in the Congo and a Uganda National Park.

Ten years later, under sponsorship of the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation, he spent 6 months traveling to all of Kenya's national parks and drawing up plans for their administration. The next year, under the same sponsorship, he went to Botswana to assist in planning that country's parks. In May 1975 he went to Saudi Arabia as a consultant in developing national parks there.

1963 was a busy year for him, he served, that year, as chairman of the group that did the field study of the north Cascades. Two years later he headed the field-study team that recommended a park plan for American Samoa.

(From left) Ranger Naturalists Dorr Yeager, Ansel Hall and Bert Harwell, 1932.
(Photo by Carl P. Russell)

Following retirement, Mac and Genevieve lived in Visalia, then, since the situation in Africa—Mac's first choice—was so unsettled, they bought a home in Oakmont, near Santa Rosa, in 1975. This was only 20 miles from Calistoga where Peg and I were living, so we were able to pick up our friendship. For the next 18 months we had some grand times together, were able to talk over old times and bemoan (as I suppose all retirees do) the changes that had come about in the Service over the last 40 years.

After it was discovered that Johnny Mac had cancer we got together as frequently as he felt like it. He and Gen would come to Calistoga where we often ate at a Mexican restaurant we all liked. To our amusement Mac would solemnly order enchiladas with a side of French fries. We last saw him on a day when his god-child was visiting. We drove over the hill to Oakmont. A few days later, on April 14, 1977, he died.

Johnny Mac has gone but he will always have a special place in our memory. And there are so many things to remember—his skills as an administrator, his ability to organize, to analyze and to solve problems, his friendly nature, his enthusiasm for life. When he made mistakes, he laughed at himself for making them. I miss him. Even after these 3 years I sometimes feel I hear his soft chuckle or see his face light up as we recall some incident from the past.

By Dorr G. Yeager
NPS Alumnus
Courier, Vol. 3 No. 12, Nov. 1980.

There were four titles in Dorr Yeager's Bob Flame series.

Bob Flame, Ranger

Bob Flame, Rocky Mountain Ranger

Bob Flame in Death Valley

Bob Flame among the Navajo

Last Updated: 01-Sep-2013