scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Dr. John MacIver, 92, Hyannis psychiatrist with a restless intellect

<?EM-dummyText [Drophead goes here] ?>

Dr. MacIver also loved flying. He received a private pilot’s license in the 1970s.

Those who knew John MacIver saw him as a Renaissance man: a skilled psychiatrist, a reflective philosopher, an adept pilot.

He lived introspectively, following his heart as he gracefully handled life's challenges, his sons said. Dr. MacIver pursued his professional and recreational aspirations with passion, not out of a desire for fame, but with an appreciation for those in the community.

While acknowledging the occasional missteps in any life, he admired everyone's accomplishments.

"People laugh when I tell them that my favorite page is the obituaries," he wrote for the 55th anniversary report of his Harvard College class. "While denying my own mortality, I get great gratification in reading accounts of the completed lives of notable people, so varied in their achievements (and transgressions)."


A former director of psychiatric services for United States Steel Corp. who subsequently had a private practice in Massachusetts, Dr. MacIver died of pulmonary fibrosis June 8 in Broad Reach rehabilitation center in North Chatham. He was 92 and had lived in North Chatham.

"He was very encouraging and was simply very helpful in a realistic way," said Dr. Marc Whaley, president of the Southeastern Massachusetts chapter of the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society of which Dr. MacIver was a member for many years.

"His interests were so wide-ranging, and he was so bright," said Whaley, who added that Dr. MacIver inspired colleagues through his actions and his words. "He had at his fingertips a lot of useful information."

Born in Irvine, Scotland, Dr. MacIver was the youngest of four children. When he was 4, his parents, Donald MacIver and the former Robina Margaret Paterson, moved the family to the United States and settled in Dorchester. His father worked at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

After attending elementary schools in Dorchester and graduating from Boston Latin School, Dr. MacIver studied English and philosophy at Harvard. During his sophomore year, he was drafted into the Army.


While serving with the Eighth Armored Division in Fort Polk, La., he was urged to take qualifying exams for medical and dental school. At the time, he wasn't very interested in either. He scored at the top of his battalion, however, and when his commanding officer encouraged him to pursue one or the other, he chose medical school.

That began a path in which he achieved his academic degrees in reverse order. Dr. MacIver did premedical coursework at Lehigh and Rutgers universities, and then graduated from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1949.

He then served during the Korean War as a public health officer for homecoming troops in Louisville, Ky., before going to Yale School of Medicine, from which he graduated with a master's in public health in 1953. Decades later, he returned to Harvard to complete his bachelor's degree in philosophy, graduating in 1981.

His son Mathew of Hingham fondly recalled that graduation day as a father-son role reversal. While he stood in the bleachers, camera poised in his hands, his father was awarded a diploma, smiling proudly.

"He rose to the occasion and took every opportunity he could," Mathew said.

"Philosophy was the love of his life," Mathew added, noting that his father balanced a successful medical career with his passion for philosophical learning. "He was all built up by ideas and couldn't get enough of them and couldn't get enough of sharing them with people. That was the legacy he left to people on a personal basis."


Early in his career, Dr. MacIver provided psychiatric care at Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., before moving to US Steel and then to private practice in Hyannis. A member for decades of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. MacIver temporarily filled a variety of psychiatric positions at clinics, hospitals, and prisons around the country after closing his practice in 1985, working until he was 90.

Dr. MacIver also loved flying. He received a private pilot's license in the 1970s, Mathew got one a year later, and together they flew around New England. Their final flight together was in Chatham last year.

"He loved all things aviation — the camaraderie, the history, the mechanics of it, soaking in the beauty of the landscape as seen from high places," Mathew said.

Dr. MacIver met Shirley Boulanger on the last day of 1949 at a New Year's Eve party. A physician, she was a pulmonary and critical care specialist. They married in August 1950 and shared a love for medicine while raising their two sons. She died in 2007 of complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. MacIver's older son, Rob, said his parents relied on one another and respected each other in a way that has inspired and affected his own life. He said watching Dr. MacIver care for Shirley after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's instilled an unparalleled sense of family responsibility.

"He really stepped up when it was necessary and really took care of our mother," Rob said. "He made sure he had a support network that enabled him to do so, and I really admire that about him."


Dr. Barbara Rockett, who was the first female president of the Massachusetts Medical Society and has been a longtime friend of the MacIvers', said she can barely speak about Dr. MacIver without also talking about his commitment, dedication, and admiration for his wife.

"They were a fantastic couple, a husband and wife physician team," Rockett said.

Rockett said she and her husband often sought guidance from Dr. MacIver because of his experience. While they both valued Dr. MacIver's knowledge, she added, they valued, more than anything, his warmth and sincerity.

Dr. MacIver listened well and "would be very considerate of the needs" of patients, she said. "He just was the ultimate joy, for some patients, to have someone like him."

A service has been held for Dr. MacIver, who in addition to his two sons leaves four grandchildren and his companion, Janice Wilson of Newmarket, N.H.

Though Dr. MacIver was known for his commitment to his field, Rob said his father's biggest legacy was his eagerness to learn more about the world around him and share it with those he loved.

"The love of ideas and the love of learning for its own sake, not being so terrifically focused on simply earning a living, but developing one's self both intellectually and emotionally, is really important," Rob said. "His enthusiasm for learning was really kind of infectious."


Felicia Gans can be reached at