Morris L. "Mac" McGough
(1922 - 2011)
The initiation of The North Carolina Arboretum in the early 1980’s can be greatly attributed to Mac McGough and to the organization he led for 38 years, the Western North Carolina Development Association. The same can be said for the numerous commodity-based assets in the region such as the WNC Farmers Market, the WNC Agricultural Center, the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, and the Mountain State Fair. Were it not for Mac’s leadership as co-chair of the WNC Corridor Association, Interstate 26 between Asheville and the Tennessee State line might not yet exist. Each community in North Carolina’s 18 western counties continues to benefit from Mac’s initiation and management of the WNCDA Community Development program.
As evidenced by his dedication and the observations of his family, Mac loved the Arboretum. In those early years of the idea formation behind the Arboretum, Mac visited and studied other examples in the Southeast nationally; formed and recruited leaders to the board of the initial non-profit corporation, WNC Arboretum, Inc.; oversaw a long-range planning and site selection process; negotiated for the location in Bent Creek with the US Forest Service; secured the services of Sasaki Associates of Watertown, MA for master planning and Foy, Lee, Moody of Waynesville for design of the first building, and orchestrated the early management and the national search for the first executive leadership. Within all this, Mac advocated successfully in 1985 for $250,000 that was appropriated from the NC General Assembly to plan and acquire land for the Arboretum. In 1986 he was similarly successful in securing legislation to establish the Arboretum as an affiliate entity of the University of North Carolina system, create a 21-member Board of Directors, and fund with $2.5 million the first building, a 25,000–square-foot Visitor Education Center. In 1989, Mac led the effort to change the name to The North Carolina Arboretum (TNCA) and to form the supporting non-profit TNCA Society. Later appropriations and a statewide bond campaign in 1983 yielded the greenhouse complex, gardens and parking. Later appropriations funded other amenities that we enjoy today.
Mac served as the Chair of the Arboretum’s Board of Directors throughout much of the first decade of its existence. He occupied board seats at various times by virtue of appointments by the Governor, Speaker of the House, President pro Tempore of the Senate, UNC President, and Mac’s election at one time as Chair of The North Carolina Arboretum Society Board of Directors.
After several years of declining health, Mac passed away on January 15, 2011.
Mac McGough was a visionary giant and grassroots leader whose legacy continues to touch almost every person who visits or lives in our mountains. Throughout his career Mac never rested when it came to making life better here through improved communities, enriched tourism experiences and enhanced quality of life.
The North Carolina Arboretum, as one of his ‘pet’ projects, provided Mac great pleasure as he initiated and promoted it over several decades. Before regional leaders could spell “arboretum,” Mac envisioned what such a facility – if strongly structured within the University system and boldly positioned in the landscape – could mean to our economy and culture. He occupied every leadership seat on Arboretum boards and advocated unceasingly for Arboretum support. In his declining years, nothing thrilled Mac more than being driven through the Arboretum.
With his passing we are reminded yet again of the wisdom of his pursuits and the magnitude of the gifts he left behind for our benefit and enjoyment.
Mac’s memory and legacy will be reflected in the entry plaza of the Arboretum’s Education Center with a work of sculpture created by local artist Martin Webster. Consisting of three pieces in strategic orientation, “Mac’s Vision” will draw attention to the three elements of Mac’s extraordinary influence on the mountain region:
- Mountain Communities, by focusing a view northward into the distance along the Arboretum’s Grand Promenade,
- Agriculture, by focusing on the “Oh Great Spirit!” sculpture reflecting the native American dependence on the land for sustenance, and
- Commodity Centers, focusing on the Arboretum’s first building and the Arboretum’s mission targeting horticultural crops.
“Mac’s Vision” will greet future generations of visitors to The North Carolina Arboretum with an aesthetic reminder of the life and legacy of Morris L. “Mac” McGough, made possible by his friends, The North Carolina Arboretum and The North Carolina Arboretum Society.