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Local News

An Extraordinary Life: Plainfield woman and Harrah's Joliet employee spread joy on and off the job

Plainfield woman and Harrah’s Joliet employee spread joy on and off the job

Melinda Mackey
Melinda Mackey

JOLIET – Lisa M. Jolin said her co-worker of 15 years at Harrah’s Joliet, Melinda Mackey of Plainfield, was the nicest person.

Melinda, Jolin said, spoke kindly about and helped everyone. But she also had a knack for evoking laughter at company rallies.

“She would come up with the funniest skits,” said Jolin, executive administrative assistant at Harrah’s. “She had a tutu made – she was in her 50s at the time – and she would dance across the stage and do a cartwheel, just to get people to laugh. … She had the most infectious laugh.”

For more than 10 years Melinda helped nonprofit agencies receive grants from the Harrah’s/Caesars foundation, Melinda’s supervisor Darren VanDover, senior vice president and general manager at Harrah’s, said in an email.

Melinda, VanDover said, was instrumental in obtaining more than $2 million in grants and donations. He felt Melinda made Harrah’s a better place to work and Joliet a better place to live.

“No one took her job more seriously, but no one – and I mean no one – laughed at work more than Melinda,” VanDover said. “She was a complete joy to be around.”

On and off the job, Melinda spread joy everywhere. Jolin said Melinda delighted in watching people open gifts from her, knowing she had given each recipient what he or she desired. She treated charity requests the same way.

“She made sure people had all the right documentation and her packets were so clean that there was no way the foundation would deny them. She was that good,” Jolin said. “She was so detail-oriented and she took so much pride in her work.”

Melinda’s sister, Barb Payne of LaGrange Park, said Melinda’s love for making people happy was partly because of her upbringing. Melinda’s paternal grandparents came from Ireland and her maternal grandparents were Cossack Riders in the Ringling Brothers Circus.

Growing up, Melinda and her sister, Nancy Markham of Chicago, took Irish dancing lessons, Barb said. Melinda loved performing and – like her parents and grandparents – saw good in everyone. Melinda simply took those traits, Barb added, to a higher level.

Melinda showered her nieces and nephews with gifts, gave cash to homeless people on the streets and donated to numerous charities, Barb said. Nancy said when Melinda was in high school, everyone referred to Melinda’s closet of beautiful clothing as a boutique.

Unlike a boutique, Melinda freely lent her clothing.

“Whatever was hers, was anybody’s,” Nancy said.

Melinda applied that same attitude to her three-year lung cancer battle.

“She said, ‘I think God gave me this to be an example, to use me to see what works and does not work, so that when someone else gets sick, they’ll know how to help them – maybe find a cure using me,’ ” Barb said.

In 2011, Melinda joined the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will & Grundy Counties, CEO Lisa Morel Las said. During Melinda’s time of service – which included her cancer battle – she consistently arrived first to meetings, full of enthusiasm and ideas.

The organization created the Melinda Mackey Board Leadership Award, made a plaque to hang in the BBBS office in perpetuity and presented the award to Melinda at an informal gathering.

Attendees, Las said, were Harrah’s employees, BBBS staff, and past and present board members. A week and a half later, Melinda was gone. Melinda was 60 when she died July 19.

“She’s sitting in a wheelchair at the event, oxygen tubing out of her nose, very weak – probably a third of the size she had been,” Las said. “She turned to me and said, ‘I’m just sitting at home, not doing anything. What can I do to help you?’ ”

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or

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