Longtime ‘It’s Academic’ host Mac McGarry dies

WASHINGTON – Longtime host of the local quiz show “It’s Academic” and champion for education Mac McGarry has died. He was 87.

McGarry was home with his family in Potomac, Md., and had battled pneumonia.

McGarry joined NBC as an announcer in 1950. He hosted several talk shows during his career and earned an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement.

First airing in October 1961, “It’s Academic” is the longest running TV quiz show in the world. The Saturday morning program, long hosted on NBC4, lets students compete by answering questions on a variety of topics.

McGarry hosted the show for more than 50 years before retiring at the age of 85.

WTOP’s Hillary Howard now hosts the D.C. edition of the show, taking the helm after McGarry officially handed it over in 2012.

“I may be doing ‘It’s Academic’ these days, but it’s Mac McGarry’s show,” Howard told WTOP after hearing the news of McGarry’s death.

Children and education were paramount for McGarry, says Howard. His impact, which stretches 50 years, is almost impossible to characterize.

“He was the host of that show for 50 years. People who grew up in this town were touched by that show for generations. Even if people weren’t regular watchers, they do know who Mac McGarry was. Every time they tapped in he taught them something,” says Howard.

“And I think he liked that.”

Susan Altman, senior producer of ‘It’s Academic’, grew up with McGarry. Her mother, Sophie Altman, started the program.

She was shocked by the news.

“After he retired, teachers, students, parents would frequently ask about him. And, you know, he set the standard,” said Altman.

“Mac had a great sense of humor, and he was meticulous in terms of, pronunciation had to be right, this had to be right, that had to be right. But he was pleasant, he was funny, he was smart, he was professional, he was just a great human being. What you saw was what you got.”

Altman went on to describe McGarry as a larger than life mentor who wanted to contribute to the community and help kids feel good about themselves. But he was also a stickler for accuracy.

“Mac would make us call an embassy if you had a foreign word and you weren’t quite sure about the pronunciation,” said Altman.

“You couldn’t say to Mac, ‘look, it’s Mongolia and nobody will know.’ Mac would say, ‘somebody will know. Call the embassy and find out how to pronounce this,'” continued Altman.

Mac McGarry on ‘It’s Academic’

See some reactions to Mac McGarry’s death from Twitter:

WTOP’s Lacey Mason contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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