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Born in Chicago, he received a B.A. from Wesleyan University in 1938. In 1938 Macy moved to Washington, D.C. where he began his government service and studied at American University. He worked as an intern at the National Institute of Public Affairs from 1938–1939 and later became an administrative aide of the Social Security Board (1939–1940).
From 1940 to 1942, he was a personnel specialist for the War Department in Washington and Chicago. From 1942 to 1943 he became the assistant director of civilian personnel. He enlisted during World War II, served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, and attained the rank of captain fighting in the China theater. In 1944, he married Joyce Hagen. After the war, he returned to the War Department as director of civilian personnel.
From 1947 to 1951, Macy was the organization and personnel director for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Los Alamos, New Mexico. From 1951 to 1953, Macy was the special assistant to the Under Secretary of the Army.
In 1953, he was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as President of the United States Civil Service Commission (CSC). He held this post until 1958. He left government service in 1958 to act as the executive vice-president of his alma mater, Wesleyan University.
President John F. Kennedy asked Macy to return to the Civil Service Commission in 1961, and Macy chaired the commission through Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. He called for federal salaries to be put on par with private industry salaries. It was during this period that Macy spoke out against sexual and racial discrimination in the federal government. Macy was an adamant supporter of the ban on homosexual employment by the federal government. He wrote The Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. ( 2/25/66): "Pertinent considerations here are the revulsion of other (federal) employees by homosexual conduct and the consequent disruption of service efficiency , the apprehension caused other employees of homosexual advances, solicitations or assaults, the unavoidable subjection of the sexual deviate to erotic stimulation (on-the-job)". As head of the CSC, he was also a named defendant in an early gay-rights case, Norton v. Macy. During the Johnson Administration, Macy also directed the White House Personnel Appointment Office.
Macy left the CSC in 1969 and served as president for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (1969–1972). His work landed him on the master list of Nixon political opponents. Later, he ran the Council of Better Business Bureaus (1972–1979).
Macy also authored several books, including Public Service: Human Side of Government (1971) and To Irrigate a Wasteland (1974).
A civil servant with a career spanning six different decades, John Macy died in McLean, Virginia.
In 1988, the U.S. Army established the John W. Macy, Jr., Award that recognizes demonstrated excellence in the leadership of civilians by an Army military or civilian supervisor. The first awardee was John T. Lovo, Director of Engineering and Housing for the US Army in Munich, Germany.
Thomas Casey (acting)
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Louis O. Giuffrida