Cliff MacKay, president and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada, has died at age 63 after a four-year battle with cancer.

A former aviation official with Transport Canada and former president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of Canada, Mackay took over at RAC in 2006.

Transport Minister Denis Lebel said in a statement that “Mackay provided strong leadership and spoke with passion on many key transportation issues. Whatever new challenges the rail industry faced, whether economic, environmental or security-related, he pursued them with enthusiasm and became an advocate for positive change.”

He applauded Mackay for trying to attract more public recognition for the importance of rail to the economy and for the tremendous changes innovation was bringing to the rail sector.

Coworkers and colleagues say his good nature and affability stood him in good stead in explaining the railway point of view. In Nov­­ember, he spoke to the national grain industry symposium about the efforts CN and CP were making to improve transportation for farm commodities.

A week later, he explained to senators the steps that the railways had taken to improve the safety of their operations.

Bob Ballantyne, who retired from the RAC presidency and formed a national voice for freight shippers, recalls Mackay as a “good guy to deal with. He was thoughtful and courteous and always business like.”

Roger Cameron, the RAC’s former communications director, says he “was a real gentleman. He was easy to work with and he was always interested in learning about what was going on. He had a good relationship with our railway and supplier members.

“He could anticipate problems, but also opprtunities and what could be done to deal with them.”