John Francis McCartney '74
The Alumni Service Award is presented to alumni and other friends of Davidson College who have rendered and performed a high degree of service to the institution. Today we are honored to recognize John Francis McCartney of the Class of 1974.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “backbone” as “the most substantial or sturdiest part of something.” For decades, John McCartney has contributed mightily to the backbone of international data communications and, even more importantly for our purposes today, to the backbone of Davidson College.
In a circumstance that sounds quite familiar of late, John’s first introduction to Davidson came while he watched the Wildcats’ basketball team gain national prominence on television. He recalls the television broadcasters commenting, time and again, on Davidson’s excellent academic reputation. He began to inquire about this Southern school, and learned that one of his neighbors in tiny Pelham, NY was a Davidson alumnus. This gentleman spoke highly of Davidson and motivated John to apply. It’s worth noting that on his Davidson application, when asked to which other schools he had applied, John wrote in capital letters, “NONE.”
In high school, John had been a strong athlete and school leader. He built upon those traits at Davidson, playing varsity football and club rugby, participating in the Honors College, and helping to found the Emanon eating house. He was inducted into the Omicron Delta Epsilon honors society for economics, was named a North Carolina Fellow, was an active member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and spent a summer studying in a six-week graduate program at Oxford.
After graduation from Davidson, John obtained his MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He then went on to lead some of the world’s most prominent companies in the technology-backbone industry. He says he was not technologically-inclined when he started in the industry, but succeeded because his liberal arts background allowed him to think creatively about how people might use technology. He understood how consumers were using existing technology products, and envisioned the solutions they might need for the future. In recognition of his achievement and leadership in the technology field, John received the Distinguished Alumnus Award ten years ago.
John led Davidson’s own technological evolution, providing guidance and financial support toward the campus’ first networking system. As keynote speaker of a related Board of Visitors meeting, he presented a memorable and powerful address regarding the Information Highway.
John served many years as an Annual Fund Class agent and as a Davidson Alumni Admission Program representative. He was co-chair of his 25th Reunion planning committee, and even assisted former head football coach Ed Farrell with recruiting.
Since then, John has accepted additional leadership roles at Davidson: as a member and chair of the Board of Visitors and ex officio member of the Board of Trustees, a member of the Let Learning Be Cherished campaign cabinet, At-Large member of the Board of Trustees, a former member of the Ad Hoc Trustee Committee on the Christian Faith Requirement, chair of the Trustees’ Protocol Committee, member of the Nominating Committee, Chair of the Executive Committee, and member on the committee which selected Tom Ross as Davidson’s 17th president. John served as chair of the board of trustees for five years, one year longer than normal, answering the call to serve an extra year to smooth the transition during Tom Ross’s first year as president.
John McCartney was the oldest of five children. His father Charles was a first-generation American and the first in his family to attend college, after which he build a successful business career. In 2001, John endowed the need-based Charles Scholarship for graduates of the Chicago Public Schools who demonstrate outstanding academic performance and a commitment to achievement and community service in activities outside the classroom. When John retired last December as Chair of the Board of Trustees, current and former Davidson College Trustees surprised him by establishing a need-based scholarship in his name through The Davidson Trust – a fitting tribute, since this historic scholarship program was created during John’s tenure as chair of the board.
For his commitments to achievement and community service, for his contributions to making Davidson –and the world—better connected, for his generosity toward others, and for the recognition he has received from his peers, we honor John Francis McCartney with the Alumni Service Award on the occasion of his 35th Reunion, this 25th day of April, 2009.