Richard E. MacKay, MD

Class Year




Posted on: May 6, 2020

Dr. Richard (Dick) Earle MacKay died on March 26, 2020. He had been battling bladder cancer and toxic side effects of immunotherapy for much of the past two years, but ultimately he succumbed to COVID-19.

After completing his undergraduate work at Yale University and earning a medical degree at the University of Virginia Medical School, Dick lived a life of service to others. In the first ten years of his career, he worked with the National Indian Health Service treating hantavirus on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico and measles outbreaks in remote tribal areas near the Arctic Circle. He then transferred to the Peace Corps and served for ten years as a Chief Medical Officer in a number of countries in Africa. He was the first medical person to reach the US Embassy in Kenya after the 1998 Al-Qaeda bombing and he volunteered at a refugee camp in the Sudan.

The plight of African people afflicted with HIV and AIDS moved him to return to the United States to study the disease at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Impressed with his research skills, the hospital offered him a staff position. There he was instrumental in building Mount Sinai’s clinic for uninsured, inner-city HIV/AIDS patients. While serving over the years as the Director of the In-Patient HIV/AIDS Service and as a Mount Sinai Medical School professor he was voted so many awards from his students that his colleagues affectionately toasted his 2017 retirement as their chance to finally win a few themselves.

He enjoyed international adventures with his wife, Donna, as well as biking, kayaking, and gardening at their weekend home in the country. His good nature, quiet humor and caring, gentle personality will long be remembered by his colleagues, patients, friends, and family.

During the last period of his life, Richard formed an extraordinary partnership at Memorial Sloan Kettering with Bianca Santomasso, MD, PhD, (and fellow Yale graduate), when he had a devastating reaction to a cancer immunotherapy drug. Dr. Santomasso, a neuro-oncologist and neurologist, discovered the source of the problem, a hitherto unknown antibody, in her research lab. Her superb diagnostic skills and humanity never flagged as they fought, together, to reverse the reaction and restore him time and time again to better health.

Their journey will be honored and memorialized by a fund set up to support Dr. Santomasso’s ground-breaking research on emerging immunotherapies and their side effects. Contributions can be made online or mailed to MSK, attn: Rachel Flannery, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Office of Development, PO Box 27106, NYC,NY 10087.

Read a tribute to Dr. MacKay published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch here.