- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The announcement Wednesday that Mac McGarry is retiring from “It's Academic” ends his reign as the host of the longest-running TV quiz show in history.

But that record will stand as a mere historical footnote to generations of Washingtonians who more likely will remember him as the exuberantly studious host of the Saturday morning show for the past 50 years.

“I’ve been in the business for 60 years and I feel like I never worked a day,” Mr. McGarry said. “This is stuff you’d do for fun. I’ve enjoyed being on the air, but it’s time.”

Whether it was the high school spirit bands or cheerleaders kicking off the live show under the glaring lights of the WRC-TV studio on Nebraska Avenue Northwest, many seem to have a special memory of the show, which pits area high school teams against one another in answering challenging questions.

“I remember him kind of walking by the booth and talking with us for a few seconds, mostly to calm us down a bit,” said former contestant Dave Goodrich and current adviser for Rockville High School’s “It's Academic” club. “Every time, he always comes out and for starters works the crowd. Then he will come and talk to each of the teams. He’s very smooth, but he’s also kind. He realizes, ‘OK, I’m dealing with nine pretty wound-up kids and not a few wound-up coaches.’ “

Although he has asked more than 200,000 questions, there are still a few answers that stick out for Mr. McGarry.

“One time I asked who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The kid paused and said, ‘Duke Ellington,’ ” he recalled.

The retirement announcement was made on the show’s Facebook page, several weeks after a posting that Mr. McGarry, 85, was battling a bad cold and WTOP radio news anchor Hillary Howard would step in as the alternate.

“The general feeling is that Mac was his own person,” producer Susan Altman said. “People say Hillary is not Mac. But she’s her own person.”

Ms. Altman has known Mr. McGarry since she was a child. Her mother, the late Sophie Altman, developed the show in the 1950s.

“He was the kind of host that would make you call the embassy to make sure he had the correct pronunciation” of a foreign word, she said. “That was Mac.”

Mr. McGarry joined the show in its inaugural season after making his way down from New England.

A graduate of Fordham University, Mr. McGarry - born Maurice McGarry Jr. - originally planned to teach French but found himself behind the desk at a radio station in Pittsfield, Mass.

“I’m lucky,” Mr. McGarry said. “I groomed myself for this kind of job.”

Growing up in New York City, the young Mr. McGarry would listen to the great music shows of the 1930s and 1940s.

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