Distinguished alumnus Michael McCarthy (BSLA ’68, MSLA ’70, PhD ’73) passes away

Photo provided by Sunshine Thacker

Michael Martin McCarthy (10/1/1944 – 5/30/2021) was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the son of Marvin L. McCarthy and Mary F. (Martin) McCarthy, and grew up along the shores of Lake Winnebago. He is survived by his four children – Erin M. Karaitiana, Mears M. Amundson, Catherine C. McCarthy and Ethan Michael McCarthy – and two grandchildren – Laurel R. Amundson and Colin Michael Amundson.

He was an award-winning, emeritus professor and author of more than 100 scholarly publications about the environment, design and policy. His relentless pursuit in the transmission of ideas and truth was always paramount.

He received a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1973) for research on environmental monitoring and remote sensing, and began his career with a research appointment split between the Environment and Energy Divisions at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. From 1979-82, he was an associate professor and chair of the Landscape Studies Program at the University of Arizona.

In 1983, he became the first to hold the endowed Foundation Professorship and Murdoch Chair in the School of Environmental Planning at the University of Melbourne. During the five years he lived in Australia, he directed a community restoration program for the village of Mt. Macedon after the Ash Wednesday Fires. In 1986, Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited Australia and dedicated the Mt. Macedon community recovery.

In 1988, he became Dean of the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University. He proposed and obtained initial funding of $4.5 million for a pioneering visualization laboratory at A&M, and approval from the Higher Education Coordinating Board for a Master of Science in Visualization Sciences that continues to attract some of the most gifted students in the world.

In 1991, Texas Gov. Ann Richards approved a legislative package, based on a proposal he wrote, for biannual funding of $2 million to assist the colonias settlements along the Texas-Mexico border. For more than two decades, that continuously funded program made a positive difference in people’s lives.

Based on these and other achievements while he was at A&M, he received the American Association of University Administrators’ first-ever National Award for Exemplary Team Leadership.

In 2000, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie asked him to be the keynote speaker at the historic Summit on Sustainability and Jobs. He presented a manifesto that stated: “Sustainability is only possible when all economic development results in a measurable net gain in environmental well-being.” In 2017, an expert Australian panel identified him as one of “the most significant individuals in landscape architecture over the past 50 years,” and he was named one of Ten Esteemed Fellows for his “research on landscape heritage and wildfire management.”

After retiring, he lived in a different community and unique ecosystem every two years – islands to highlands – from the Pacific Northwest to the Rocky Mountains to the Lake Superior country of the upper Midwest to along the Mississippi River corridor. He settled in New Mexico in 2017, always spending as much time as he could in Nature, always learning.