Long-time president and CEO presided over period of expansion and renovation

Last updated: August 20. 2013 5:40PM - 1328 Views
Special to the Daily Journal

Contributed photoJohn Mackay, president and CEO, Discovery Place, Inc.
Contributed photoJohn Mackay, president and CEO, Discovery Place, Inc.
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John Mackay, president and CEO, Discovery Place, Inc., will retire from the science and technology center at the end of 2013, capping a long career at one of the region’s premier attractions.

In his 13 years at the helm of the organization, the 64-year-old Mackay expanded its reach and influence by launching a new, branded network of children’s museums, known as Discovery Place KIDS, with two initial locations in Huntersville and Rockingham; attracting world-renowned exhibitions to the uptown Charlotte facility; overseeing a complete overhaul of Discovery Place; expanding Charlotte Nature Museum’s outdoor and indoor experiences; and, most recently, announcing plans for a unique center dedicated to the professional development of educators in science, technology, engineering and math.

During Mackay’s tenure, Discovery Place, Inc., has earned numerous accolades, recently being featured as one of the nation’s top 10 Great Family-Friendly Museums in USA Today.

“My life and much of my career have been intertwined with Discovery Place and Charlotte Nature Museum, and so the decision to step down is both sad and exciting. I am so proud of the learning experiences that we have provided, and will continue to provide, to people of all ages and diverse backgrounds throughout this region,” said Mackay. “With a new strategic plan, new facilities poised to grow and one of the most talented and passionate teams of professionals around, the time is right for the energy of new leadership to bring the organization to the next level.”

The Discovery Place, Inc. Board of Trustees has formed a search committee led by Joan Lorden of UNC-Charlotte and Mark McGoldrick of Home Services Lending to conduct a national search for a new chief executive.

“With John’s leadership, Discovery Place has expanded, excelled and been recognized as one of the nation’s leading science centers. His vision to extend the region’s learning opportunities beyond the four walls of the Tryon St. museum will benefit generations through Discovery Place KIDS and the new STEM education center,” said Chris Perri, Discovery Place board chair. “He leaves both a legacy of innovation and big shoes to fill. The Board will need to work diligently to find a new leader for one of Charlotte’s great institutions.”

Mackay began his Discovery Place career at the age of 12 when he and his father captured a rattlesnake and brought it to Charlotte Nature Museum for safekeeping and display. Intrigued by the Museum’s commitment to the natural sciences, the young Mackay quickly became a Museum volunteer and then moved into a part-time staff position where he remained for 9 years. Upon graduation from college, earning a master’s degree in biology, Mackay became the director of the office of environmental studies at Appalachian State University. He returned to Charlotte as part of the team that planned and opened Discovery Place in late 1981, where he developed the Museum’s iconic rainforest habitat and aquarium exhibitions.

Throughout the years, he served as coordinator of biological sciences, director of educational programs and vice president of planning, research and development. In 1992, he left Charlotte to develop and launch the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Ala., as president and CEO. Finally, in 2000, he returned to his roots, becoming the president and CEO of Discovery Place, Inc., just the second person to hold the office, following Freda Nicholson, since the Museum’s opening.

Discovery Place Inc. owns and operates Discovery Place, Charlotte Nature Museum, Discovery Place KIDS–Huntersville and Discovery Place KIDS–Rockingham and is supported, in part, with funding from the Arts & Science Council.

For more information visit discoveryplace.org or connect with Discovery Place on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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