First lady aspires to be familiar face

Sheona Mackenzie, wife of President Neil Theobald, is embracing her new home.


Sheona Mackenzie likes to keep busy.

Her days recently have revolved around unpacking belongings, fixing up her new abode in Rittenhouse Square, occasionally baking sweets and taking the afternoons to explore her new city.

That’s all on top of fulfilling her self-proclaimed duties as the president’s wife.

“You know, Temple didn’t interview me, they just get me,” Mackenzie, President Neil Theobald’s wife of 30 years, said. “You have to put up with whoever your president brings, so I want to be helpful.”

Mackenzie has already made her face recognizable to students, as she has attended mostly every men’s home basketball game since her move to Philadelphia on Jan. 1.

“We like basketball, we like the students,” she said. “We had season basketball and football tickets at IU so we’ll do the same here.”

Mackenzie said she also likes to acquaint herself with alumni.

“There always seems to be an alumni event before or surrounding these games and I think that’s important to pop in and keep in touch with the alumni base,” she said.

Temple has also played its part in welcoming the new family, Mackenzie said.

“Temple has been very, very welcoming. There have been a lot of dinners hosted for us to meet people on campus,” she said. “We went to the Fox School [of Business] event in the fall. During the fall once or twice a month we’d come to Temple.”

Mackenzie, a mother to three grown children, said she is enjoying being in the city, but it’s a culture that is much different from what she was used to in Bloomington, Ind.

“Indiana doesn’t have public transportation,” she said. “The closest big city that would have that would be Chicago.”

But that didn’t stop Mackenzie and Theobald from exploring the city months ago when they were deciding if Temple was a right fit for them.

“There was once when we were considering the job, we just flew in and didn’t tell anyone we were here and tried to decide whether we could see ourselves here,” she said. “So we took the subway around, we took the train.”

“I liked being in a small town to raise my children,” Mackenzie added. “But then once they leave, they’re not coming back…they’re all over the country, so we thought we could either stay in Bloomington and say, ‘Oh they’re not coming back,’ or we could go and have our own kind of adventure. And I do like the city, we hope to take advantage of all the cultural aspects that it has to offer.”

At age 4, Mackenzie immigrated with her Scottish family to New York. She grew up in New Jersey, and at 12 years old she moved to Bloomington, Ind., where she went to high school and college.

Mackenzie studied criminology at Indiana University, setting her up for her first job as a police officer in a city known for its tough crime.

“[Sheona is] very smart; very determined,” Theobald, Temple’s 10th president, said in an email. “Her first job after college was as a police officer in Chicago. She was determined to do this because, at that time [in the 1970s], she was being told that she couldn’t succeed on a large city police force.”

She later moved to Seattle to do probation work and research on a juvenile prostitution project.

Mackenzie met Theobald, then an economist in private industry, on her “first and last blind date,” set up by friends in Seattle, she said.

As their new relationship thrived, Mackenzie’s checkered career blossomed when she decided to study school psychology.

“My students, the kids that were being brought in, couldn’t read their own police report,” she said. “So there were a lot of reading issues going on.”

Mackenzie received her master’s degree in school psychology from the University of Washington, she said.

When Mackenzie moved to Indiana with Theobald, who was then offered a job at Indiana University as a professor in education policy and finance, she spent time working in public schools and later helping young adults obtain GEDs.

“I would test them for learning disabilities, ADHD, anything that might get them accommodations to help them get their GED,” Mackenzie said.

Since she was working while Theobald served numerous positions at Indiana University, Mackenzie said her role at the university was “sort of a support player.”

“I would go to functions, but I wasn’t responsible for anything,” she said.

As for now, Mackenzie isn’t sure if she is going to do school psychology in Philadelphia. But, she does know she wants responsibilities at Temple.

“I’m going to give myself a few months and see how much time this whole ‘wife of the president’ takes, which seems to take quite a bit…If I do anything it will probably be volunteer work,” Mackenzie said. “I don’t want to be pulled in too many directions initially, I want to see where I can be most useful at Temple.”

Mackenzie plans to voluntarily teach a freshman course, which is still in its initial inception, on leadership with her husband in the upcoming semesters.

“I think it’s something that Neil and I could do as a team,” Mackenzie said. “I could go off on my own and do stuff, but I think this is a job where he needs a lot of support. It’s a hugely demanding job, and I think the class could be almost our date night.”

The class, which is modeled off a senior course at Indiana University, will ask students what their vision is for the university. It then will work to implement the ideas and make the university more student centered, Mackenzie said.

“[Mackenzie] has more perspective on Temple University than I do – I am too close to many issues,” Theobald said. “She keeps our focus on students – and the experiences they are having. Being engaged on campus allows us to help [ensure] that students are having positive experiences on campus.”

“[Mackenzie] is a wonderful listener and we share common values,” Theobald added. “Thus, she is invaluable in thinking through issues as they arise.”

Lauren Hertzler can be reached at or on Twitter @laurenhertzler.

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