LUMBERTON — Lumberton and Robeson County would not have enjoyed a growth spurt except for the efforts of Hector MacLean, according to U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre.
“Having I-95 pass through Lumberton definitely changed the face of Lumberton and Robeson County,” said McIntyre, a lifelong friend of MacLean’s and the driving force in his first year in Congress for getting the state of North Carolina to name the stretch of Interstate 95 through Lumberton as the Hector MacLean Highway. “Having the interstate built through Lumberton had a multiplier effect on the business and economic activity in the area. It was a springboard for the explosion of growth westward toward the interstate and north.”
MacLean, a former Lumberton mayor, state senator, banker, philanthropist and civic leader, is credited with steering I-95 through Lumberton. He died Friday at 92 years of age at his Elm Street home.
A banker who helped create what is now BB&T, MacLean is also credited with being the driving force behind recruiting businesses and industry to locate in Robeson County.
“He played a major role in creating Robeson County’s industrial base during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” said Greg Cummings, who currently leads Robeson County’s efforts to recruit business and industry to the area. “He was my mentor, and at first I was very envious of him because of how successful he was at bringing all of that industry into Robeson County.
“But he taught me something that has stayed with me for years. He called it ‘integrity.’ He said that if you tell a company you are going to do something for them, you need to keep your word. He always said that it is your word that means everything.”
MacLean was also instrumental in the establishment of the Robeson County chapter of the United Way. The local chapter of the United Way’s top award, the “Hector MacLean Award of Excellence,” is named in his honor.
Sandra Oliver, executive director of Robeson County’s chapter of the United Way, said it was MacLean who in 1985 called key leaders together at a luncheon and pitched the idea of establishing a county United Way chapter.
“He should be a real example to young folks about the need to get involved in their communities,” Oliver said.
MacLean was born Sept. 15, 1920, in Baltimore, the son of the late Gov. Angus Wilton McLean and Margaret French McLean. His father served as North Carolina’s governor from 1925 to 1929.
MacLean was raised in Lumberton and graduated from the Lumberton school system before going on to Davidson College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1941. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II as a captain in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army during its campaigns in Europe. At the end of the war, he was honorably discharged as a major and possessed a Bronze Star.
MacLean returned to North Carolina and earned his law degree at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill. He then opened his law practice in Lumberton.
MacLean was elected Lumberton’s mayor in 1948 and served from 1949 to 1953. He was appointed in 1961 to serve in the state Senate, a position he held until 1971. While a member of the Senate, he was instrumental in the establishment of Pembroke State College as a university (now The University of North Carolina at Pembroke), and the creation of the North Carolina Zoo.
MacLean became president of the National Bank of Lumberton, which was founded by his father in 1897. The National Bank of Lumberton became Southern National Bank in 1953, and would eventually become BB&T. MacLean served as the bank’s president and later CEO from 1955 until his retirement in 1990.
When BB&T moved its corporate headquarters away from Lumberton in the mid-1990s to Winston-Salem, MacLean was credited with ensuring that the bank retained significant operations in Robeson County.
L. Glenn Orr Jr., who succeeded MacLean as chairman and CEO of Southern National Bank, credits MacLean with “building Southern National.”
“He was a heck of a negotiator. I would sit there in awe in the board room and watch him negotiate. He could sell anybody anything,” Orr said. “He was always sincere. What you saw of Hector is what you got.
“I worked with Hector for 14 years and he was like a father to me. I don’t think people realize what he did quietly for the community. He was a gentleman who genuinely cared about people.”
Those close to MacLean all emphasize his love for his community and family.
Lumberton attorney Horace Stacy, a longtime friend of MacLean’s, remembers him as being “very generous” and an “outstanding speaker.”
“He had a lot of friends,” Stacy said Saturday, shortly after learning of MacLean’s death. “He was a powerful figure in this community. He was so involved in the community, and received so many honors, I can’t remember them all.”
David Weinstein, a former state senator and Lumberton mayor, said he would seek MacLean’s opinion on important legislative issues.
“A mighty oak has fallen. He loved Robeson County, Lumberton and North Carolina,” Weinstein said. “He will be greatly missed.”
McIntyre said he knew MacLean as a neighbor, fellow Sunday School teacher and elder at the First Presbyterian Church in Lumberton, and through community involvement. He consulted MacLean in 1995 shortly before announcing his first bid for Congress.
“He was my mentor,” McIntyre said. “He told me the people I needed to contact and the key places I had to go if I wanted to make a bid for the U.S. Congress.
“He was a giant of a man who touched so many lives in so many ways — in his church, community and professional life.”
Aaron Clinard, MacLean’s son-in-law, said that he always told his children that they “couldn’t have asked for a better model” on how to live life than their grandfather.
“Family was always very important to him,” Clinard said. “He always made sure to involve everyone in Christian activities … and he was very proud of his Scottish heritage.”
MacLean’s wish to help his community prosper also led him to help build the hospital that is today Southeastern Regional Medical Center. Clinard said his father-in-law’s desire to see all races work together for the betterment of the community led to him serving as the first chairman of Robeson County’s Human Relations Commission.
MacLean received numerous recognitions and honors for his service. They included being inducted in 1996 to the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame; receiving the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest civilian honor; being awarded the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Distinguished Service Award; and receiving honorary doctorates from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
The funeral, with full military honors, will be held at 2 p.m. today at First Presbyterian Church in Lumberton, with interment in Meadowbrook Cemetery immediately following the service.
McIntyre, who will not be able to attend the funeral because Congress is in session, said he plans to honor MacLean in Washington by having a tribute added to the Congressional Record.