Sylvia met John Mackey when they were both students at Syracuse University. In 1963 they graduated and were married in December of that same year. While John was playing tight-end for the Baltimore Colts, Sylvia worked as a bi-lingual secretary (French) for the World Bank and then as a linguist (French/Russian) for the Defense Department.
After having three children, Sylvia began a 30-year modeling career that took her all over the world. After nine seasons in Baltimore, they moved to San Diego where John completed his tenth and final year in the NFL playing for the Chargers.
About seventeen years ago, Sylvia realized that either she or John needed to work for a big corporation that provided a regular pay check, as well as health and dental benefits. Taking matters into her own hands, Sylvia answered an ad in the paper for bi-lingual flight attendants and secured a job as a flight attendant with United Airlines, and began a new career in 1998 at 56 years old.
After 9/11, Sylvia was furloughed from her job for ninety days. It was during this period that John was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), and Sylvia finally had answers concerning his recent, escalating strange behavior.
Sylvia moved the family back to Baltimore because she knew that John still had very fond memories of Baltimore. In 2006, Sylvia asked the NFL for help, knowing this disease could lead her and many other families in this same situation to financial ruin. Her plea turned into the “88 Plan,” named after her husband’s jersey number with the Baltimore Colts.
Sylvia Mackey is a co-founder, along with her two daughters, of the John Mackey Fund, Inc., a 501 C-3 organization that raises funds for research for Frontotemporal Dementias.
She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Alzheimer’s Association of Baltimore and the Board of Directors for the Association for Frontotemporal Degenerations.