Remembering Mary McKinley
Note: This article was originally published in the 2021 Q1 issue of A2Zzz.
Beloved sleep technology pioneer Mary McKinley passed away on November 30, 2020, after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. Mary is remembered below by several of her colleagues, friends and fellow volunteers at AAST.
Statement From Jon Atkinson, BS, RPSGT, FAAST, Past President, AAST
Mary McKinley burst onto the sleep technologist scene in the mid-1980s and earned her RPSGT credential in 1986. To those who knew her, when I say burst, I mean burst! Always effervescent, smiling and laughing, she lit up a room when she entered with her red hair, green eyes and purple clothes. She reminded me of “Tigger” in Tartan.
She was brilliant, with a knack for teaching and a willingness to share her knowledge with her colleagues, giving her time and energy abundantly with the Association of Polysomnographic Technologists (APT, now AAST) and the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT) during a period of rapid growth in our profession. She was indeed a pioneer in our field.
I first recall Mary, a registered EEG technologist, giving a series of lectures on EEG and seizures at several national sleep meetings I was attending. Each lecture was fabulous. Mary did not do anything that wasn’t awesome.
I grew to know her in the early years of polysomnographic technology, and we were able to adjudicate together during the years of practical examinations for the BRPT credentialing exam. I distinctly remember an exam in Denver in the mid-1990s; we were at dinner with the examining team, a pizza place. I volunteered to split a pizza with Mary — it was a jalapeno, anchovy and black olive pizza (hot, salty and hairy). She also introduced me to Leinenkugel Red — things you don’t easily forget.
Even if you didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Mary personally, she remains one of the pillars of our profession and has had an impact on all of us. I read Mary’s obituary just the other day and it quoted Mary’s mantra: “Life is too short to not have a good time." How true, dear lady!
Statement From Kimberly Trotter, MA, RPSGT, FAAST
I met Mary at the 1988 Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) conference in San Diego. It was my second sleep conference, and I was just starting to network with sleep technologists. She was such a friendly person, with red hair and a spit-fire personality. Mary was adventurous, fearless and so committed to our profession. She introduced me to many of the sleep technologists I’m still in touch with today.
I enjoyed connecting with her at conferences, including two APSS conferences in Minneapolis, near her hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. The first time we met up, she was a sleep technology instructor at a community college in town and gave a spectacular tour of the campus and the sleep lab at the Hennepin County Medical Center. During the second conference, Mary showed me around town. At that point she was an accomplished hypnotherapist as well as a sleep technologist. We quickly learned what a small world we lived in when we discovered I knew her brother who lived in northern California.
When she learned her time was limited, she showed such strength, facing it head on while chronicling her experiences along the way. She contributed so much to our profession and I will really miss her.
Statement From Todd Eiken, RPSGT, FAAST, Past President, AAST
Mary was a pioneer in the field of polysomnography technology. Transitioning from electroencephalogram (EEG) technology to the new and emerging field of clinical sleep disorders, I met her in the mid-1980s at the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, where she was a sleep technologist and a fellow coworker of mine under Andrea Patterson.
She was part of the clinical staff that discovered and first described REM sleep behavior disorder and was responsible for conducting many of the polysomnography studies used in that research. She also served as an examiner, travelling to many sleep labs throughout the country, administering the practical portion of the BRPT credentialing exam. She long remained involved as a member of the BRPT Exam Development Committee, creating the first all-written RPSGT exam and continuing to refine the exam questions as the field evolved.
Mary was also very involved with AAST, formerly APT, serving on the Education Committee. Over the years, she presented at many national and regional sleep conferences, typically on technical topics related to BRPT exam preparation. She also served on the AAST Communications Committee that determined the association needed a newsletter. It was Mary that proposed the name A2Zzz which is still used today — A2 referring to the right sided mastoid reference electrode we now call M2, and Zzz for sleep.
In 2007, Mary became one of the founding instructors for a new, two-year associate degree PSG technologist program at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Mary continued there as a professor for the polysomnographic and electroneurodiagnostic technology majors until 2014. The program was the second associate degree program in the U.S. to become CAAHEP accredited.
Mary was a wonderful colleague and friend and will be missed dearly.