Michael McCartney, a former Auburn University trustee who contributed generously and extensively to his alma mater for decades, passed away Monday. He was 88.
A 1957 Auburn University civil engineering graduate, McCartney served as president pro tempore for five of his 14 years on the Board of Trustees, was a founding director and longtime president of the Tigers Unlimited Foundation and served in leadership roles with the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.
“Mr. McCartney was an iconic figure at Auburn and had tremendous impact on all aspects of the university,” President Christopher B. Roberts said. “As our former dean of engineering, I was able to witness first-hand the nationally relevant academic programs that he helped us build.”
A true champion of engineering education, McCartney understood what it took to be a success, and he ardently supported the college’s efforts to be the best student-centered engineering experience in America. He helped bolster the college’s faculty base through the Michael B. McCartney Endowed Chair in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, while also supporting the completion of the Shelby Center for Engineering Technology through gifts to construct the McCartney Suite and Terrace. For his dedication to the College of Engineering, McCartney was named a founding member of the college’s Keystone Society.
McCartney, who served on the board from 1979-93, always placed the interest of Auburn’s students above all else.
“I met Mr. McCartney when I was a student at Auburn and served him for many years thereafter in various roles around the university,” said Jon Waggoner, secretary to the Board of Trustees. “Not a decision came before him where he didn’t first consider how that decision would impact the student experience and the quality of an Auburn degree.”
Auburn Athletics leadership summed up McCartney’s impact through the years.
“Mr. McCartney’s impact on half a century of Auburn Athletics is undeniable,” said Tim Jackson, executive associate athletics director. “He’s tremendously impacted our facilities, our finances and the recommendation of excellent coaches for our programs.”
Tasked in 1980 with helping select Auburn’s next football coach, McCartney’s search committee zeroed in on Pat Dye.
“Pat just struck a chord,” McCartney recalled in 2016. “He was my choice all the way.”
More than three decades later, McCartney had the same feeling soon after Auburn hired Bruce Pearl in 2014.
“Bruce Pearl came and saw me right after he came to Auburn,” McCartney said two years after Pearl’s arrival. Eager to capitalize on the momentum created by his hiring, Pearl wanted to visit with a few Auburn people in Gadsden, McCartney’s hometown.
As he did throughout his business career and philanthropic giving, McCartney exceeded expectations.
“Sure enough, Gadsden was one of Coach Pearl’s first visits anywhere in Alabama,” McCartney said. “We had 75 or 80 people there.”
In 2006, Auburn officially dedicated the brick plaza outside of the Tigers’ Den at Jordan-Hare Stadium as the Mike and Jane McCartney Plaza. Completed in 2001, the courtyard is paved with approximately 6,000 inscribed bricks and honored Mike’s wife, Jane. They were married for 57 years before her death in February 2013.
“I’m honored and extremely humbled,” McCartney said in 2006. “I am very appreciative of the Board of Trustees, President Richardson and the Athletic Department for the trust they have placed in my family and myself. This is truly a special honor.
“Auburn doesn’t just mean anything to me, Auburn means everything to me,” McCartney said at the dedication. “It’s not often that I talk about myself, but I couldn’t think of any other way to express what Auburn and Auburn football mean to me. What an honor it is to have the McCartney name associated with Jordan-Hare Stadium.”
A decade later, McCartney made a significant gift to enhance Auburn’s men’s basketball program, providing funding for travel, recruiting and facility upgrades. In recognition of McCartney’s gift, the Athletics Department in February 2017 named the McCartney Atrium adjacent to the scholarship entrance at Neville Arena.
“I just really became impressed with Bruce, and that’s the reason I wanted to put it in basketball because he’s going to do great,” said McCartney, whose 2016 prediction proved prophetic.
“It is emotional for me to think that Mike would want to lend his name to our arena,” Pearl said in 2016. “I’m humbled by it. I am going to work really hard to try and earn that honor. We are grateful.”
Arriving on the Plains in 1952, McCartney walked on to Shug Jordan’s football team, but an injury his freshman season cut short his athletic career.
“I graduated in civil engineering in 1957 and went to work for the Florida Highway Department and for a contractor for about five years,” McCartney said in 2016. “My dad started a little construction business here in Gadsden, Alabama, and wanted me to come home. We were happy in Florida, but the idea of coming home really sounded good to us, and we’ve been very grateful ever since.”
McCartney, who was awarded an honorary doctorate from Auburn, was extremely successful in the business world as president of McCartney Construction Company. He served on the board of the National Center for Asphalt Technology, or NCAT, since its inception and was instrumental in getting the NCAT testing facility located at Auburn. McCartney served as chair of the Alabama Road Builders Hall of Fame and the Alabama Engineers Hall of Fame.
McCartney served on the Board of Governors for the National Asphalt Pavement Association, as president of the Alabama Asphalt Pavement Association and also as president of the Alabama Road Builders. In 1990, McCartney was honored with the Shug Jordan Award.
McCartney and his first wife, Jane, raised two sons, Michael and Tim, and one daughter, Carol.
Motivated by “my love for Auburn and all it’s done for me,” McCartney belonged to Auburn Athletics’ Oaks Society.
“It feels good to be able to give back to something that’s meant so much to me,” he said.
Former Auburn University Board of Trustees member Michael McCartney passed away on July 25 at the age of 88.