Anyone would have understood if Sandy MacKinnon had canceled his 7:30 a.m. appointment Friday at the University of Tampa.
Yes, he was receiving an award from the Center for Ethics at the Sykes College of Business. It is a huge honor.
But his wife of 17 years, Dottie Berger MacKinnon, died Sunday after a long battle with cancer, and her memorial service was held less than 24 hours before the award presentation.
Sandy knew something else, though.
“Dottie would have wanted me to go,” he said.
She would have. She would have demanded it. She had even helped arrange the program and secure some of the guest speakers, including former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon.
Sandy knew there was no question about what to do.
“Whatever my pain was, it would have been a mistake for me not to be there,” he said. “And it was an opportunity to make my first break from the process of grief we’ve all been going through the last four or five weeks.”
Dottie was renowned for her public service, particularly in establishing safe havens for children.
Sandy has been a champion in business as well as community organizations.
“Our marriage was magical in so many ways,” Sandy said. “We always played so well off each other. She had her strengths, and I had mine.
“This community made Dottie and me look good. All you have to do is raise your hand to get involved.”
They raised their hands a lot.
You already know that, though, and this is a story of so much more. It’s about two people, fiercely in love, who made a difference.
“Dottie was so proud of him,” Iorio said. “They were proud of each other. Sandy is the kind of individual you could always count on. If he said he was going to be there, he would. If he ever said he would become involved in something, he was never a no-show.
“So it’s entirely in keeping with his character that he would attend this the morning after the service for his wife,” Iorio said.
“Through it all, he has continued to focus on the next day, on his family, and relationships.”
Sandy and Dottie took a final cruise together a couple of months ago, and her condition began to deteriorate not long after they got back.
So Iorio wrote what was tantamount to a farewell column about Dottie for the Tribune earlier this month.
Sandy read it to her as he sat by her bedside.
“We always immortalize people after they’re gone,” he said. “That’s why it was good for Dottie to hear it when she could.”
It was just as important for Sandy MacKinnon to hear the things he did Friday morning, when the community told a grieving husband that he is not alone.
That was far more important than any award.
“It was a real emotional morning and bittersweet, but it was a good opportunity for Sandy to see how much he is loved,” Lee said.
“Even more than that, he could see how much he is respected,” he said. “I think that was something he needed to hear.”