Dr. Frank Macchiarola, legendary educator and public servant, dies at 71

Dr. Frank J. Macchiarola, widely admired New York City Public Schools Chancellor under Mayor Ed Koch and most recently Chancellor of St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, died on Tuesday at the age of 71.

Dr. Macchiarola set the standard for leadership across a career that spanned education, law, business and public service. Mayor Koch had proclaimed that Dr. Macchiarola was the “finest Schools Chancellor New York City ever had,” and no one disputed him.

In his five years as Schools Chancellor, from 1978 to 1983, Dr. Macchiarola transformed the city’s disastrous reading and math scores and slashed school crime.

Besides his most recent stint as chancellor of St. Francis College, Dr. Macchiarola also served as dean of Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law where he also taught, and professor at both Columbia University's Graduate School of Business and City University of New York.

In addition, he served as president and CEO of the New York City Partnership, Inc. (1973), and Deputy Director of the New York State Emergency Financial Control Board for New York City.

Friends and colleagues said that his commitment to education left an indelible mark on New York City.

 “Brooklyn has lost one of its greatest sons today,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. “Frank Macchiarola was an educator extraordinaire who took an active role in any project he thought might benefit Brooklynites.”

Calling him a “legend,” Markowitz added, “At every point in his career, Frank was a tireless advocate for students, whether it was in fighting to better the quality of education throughout New York City schools or giving personal attention to a pupil in need while president of St. Francis College.”

“Frank was a great Brooklynite, proud Italian-American, a friend, and a mentor,” said Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Carlo A. Scissura. “I valued his guidance and advice when I served on the NYC Charter Review Commission. New York is a better place thanks to Frank's hard work and dedication.”

“He was a man of boundless ideas, creativity and energy,” longtime colleague and friend Carol Francescani told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “His was a great gift – he really respected people who did their job well and he let them do it. I met him in 1971 when he headed the [Housing Study Group] of the Scott Commission,” she said.  The study “predicted the fiscal crisis of 1974. He understated it; he didn’t think anyone would believe it.”

When the fiscal crisis did hit, she said, Macchiarola joined the Emergency Financial Control Board under Gov. Hugh Carey. Ms. Francescani worked for Gov. Carey at that time. “He was an expansive person, with a huge sense of humor. He was fairly decisive, and he always wanted everyone’s opinion. He has a great regard for talking to people. He’d phone them to get their thoughts before deciding what to do.”

Macchiarola used his expansive network of friends to good effect, she said. “He was very adept – it sometimes seemed like magic the way he put people together. People he worked with became friends forever. He collected people, and we would get together on a regular basis. One group – largely from the Board of Education days – met once a month without fail.” She said that the last gathering, which incorporated “his breakfast group” met almost two weeks ago at his house.

Francis Joseph Macchiarola was born on April 7, 1941 and grew up in Flatbush. He met his wife, the former Mary T. Collins, in kindergarten at Holy Cross School. He and his wife Mary made their home in Midwood and had three sons, Joseph, Michael and Frank. His wife and sons survive him, as do three brothers — Joseph, James and Henry — and seven grandchildren.

He earned his bachelor’s degree at St. Francis, and studied law at Columbia University, where he also earned a Ph.D. in political science.

Chancellor Macchiarola returned to his alma mater, St. Francis College, as its President in 1996. A “constant sight in the hallways,” students, faculty and administrators referred to him as “Dr. Mac.”

As President, Macchiarola, who also taught, would go through student transcripts, St. Francis said -- looking to help those who seemed to be struggling and to reward others who showed improvements.

Under his leadership the College completed a successful $40 million fundraising campaign which resulted in the construction of what is now called the Frank and Mary Macchiarola Academic Center, a state-of-the-art building with a three floor library, black box theater, HDTV studio and multimedia classroom.

That money was also used to build the Anthony J. Genovesi Center, a multipurpose athletic facility that hosts home volleyball matches, intramurals, lectures and special events.

Of particular significance to “Dr. Mac” was the creation of more than 150 endowed scholarships at St. Francis, the school said.

His tenure as dean of Cardozo School of Law from 1991-1996, “raised Cardozo’s prestige as a world-class law school,” according to a statement from the school. “He put students front and center, as he thought about what the law school needed and what new initiatives to support,” said Dean David Rudenstine.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Dr. Macchiarola to serve as chair of the New York City Charter Revision Commission. He mediated the 2003 strike of Local 802 Musicians Union against the League of American Theaters and Producers; chaired the New York City Districting Commission, which drew City Council District lines for the 1991 election; and acted as special referee in the case that drew New York State congressional lines for the 1992 election.

Dr. Macchiarola was known to hold a strong and deeply rooted Roman-Catholic faith, recognized through numerous awards and accolades. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI bestowed upon him the Papal Honor of Knight Commander of the Holy Order of St. Gregory the Great. Among numerous other honors, he also received the St. Thomas More Award from the Catholic Lawyers Guild Diocese Brooklyn.

He had been ill for a while, Ms. Francescani said. “What impressed him throughout his illness was so many people of faith praying for him; he knew it and he felt it.”

A wake will be held at St. Francis College at 180 Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights on Wednesday, December 19 and Thursday, December 20 from 2 – 5 p.m. and 7 – 9 p.m.

A funeral mass will be held on Friday, December 21 at 10 a.m. at The Cathedral-Basilica of St. James on Jay Street and Cathedral Place in Brooklyn (one block North of Tillary Street). The burial will take place following mass at Holy Cross Cemetery, 3620 Tilden Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11203.

Dr. Macchiarola is survived by his wife Mary T. Macchiarola, his three sons Joseph (Michaela), Michael (Jennifer) and Frank (Sarah) and seven grandchildren; John, Joseph, Danny, Mary Kate, Erin, Maggie and Brian. He is also survived by his brothers Joseph, James and Henry.