Anti-gambling, recovery activist Kenneth MacGregor dies at 74 at home in Pawtucket
By Lynn Arditi
Journal staff writer
His name was Kenneth G. MacGregor but everybody knew him as “Kenny Mac.”
At an age when many men are perfecting their golf swings, MacGregor, a retired engineer from Pawtucket, found his calling. He testified at the State House about the dangers of gambling addiction. He opened a recovery house — and sometimes his own home — to people trying to beat addiction.
“He’d take in a lot of people who other people had rejected,’’ his son, Joseph MacGregor, 32, of Burrillville, said. “He tried to help them out and get them on the straight and narrow. ''
MacGregor — anti-gambling activist, head of Highlander House, in Pawtucket, and founder of the Rhode Island Council on Problem Gambling — died at home in Pawtucket on Saturday. He was 74.
“He had been in recovery for [over] four decades and helped hundreds of people find and sustain their recovery,” said Thomas Coderre, a senior adviser to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in Washington. “He helped me tremendously, without judgment, and I am forever grateful for it.”
The former Rhode Island senator recalled how MacGregor came to visit him in 2003, when Coderre was in treatment.
“Kenny showed up at the treatment center with all sorts of baked goods and donations for the residents,” he wrote in an e-mail. “In fact, he came every week, and not just to our center, but to centers and shelters for [the] homeless and victims of domestic violence throughout the state.”
Coderre recalled his mother, former state Rep. Elaine Coderre, describing how on Saturday mornings the children in the homeless shelter in Pawtucket that she used to run would wait on the front steps for MacGregor, who would arrive with two dozen doughnuts and two gallons of milk.
A U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, where he served with the 101st Airborne Division, MacGregor later worked as an industrial engineer and consultant before retiring in his 50s and focusing on helping people trying to beat addiction.
His personal life was marked by tragedy. His 29-year-old stepdaughter, Marie A. Gonder, was murdered in 1994 by her husband, leaving behind their three young boys, Joseph, Jaime and Justin. MacGregor and his wife, Phyllis, took in the boys, their grandsons. Then, less than two months after her daughter’s murder, Phyllis MacGregor died at age 52.
“He raised those kids virtually all by himself,” Coderre said. In 1997, MacGregor adopted the three boys as his sons.
He also had four other children — two sons, Rob Roy and Kenneth F. McGregor, from a previous marriage, and Phyllis' children, Lynn and Joseph P. MacGregor, whom he also adopted.
“He was a class act,” his son Joseph said. “He was very humble. He did a lot of things under the radar.”
Calling hours are on Friday, May 27, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the William W. Tripp Funeral Home, 1008 Newport Ave., Pawtucket. Services, with military honors, will be on Saturday, May 28, at 10 a.m. at Calvin Presbyterian Church, 126 Angell Rd., Cumberland, followed by burial at Highland Memorial Park Cemetery, 1 Rhode Island Ave., Johnston.