A Steady Stream of Support: Reflections on 50-plus Years in Philanthropy
“Being involved in philanthropy is a great experience. It’s a high calling, and it’s something few are privileged to be able to serve.”
You could also say McTier has a been lifeblood of sorts to the people of Atlanta for more than half a century: His wisdom, generosity and business savvy still flows steadily through many organizations in the region.
Son of a Methodist minister, McTier wasn’t quite sure what career path he’d take when he followed his father and brothers’ footsteps to Emory.
“Everyone is exposed to a lot of business issues, and my feeling was that a business education would be helpful to me no matter what I might undertake,” he said.
After graduation, McTier took an administrative position at Emory University’s medical center and later in the university’s general administration. After a decade at Emory, he transitioned into what would become his life’s work: a career in philanthropy.
For 44 years, 18 as president, McTier led the Robert W. Woodruff, Joseph B. Whitehead, Lettie Pate Evans, and Lettie Pate Whitehead foundations — organizations that, today, collectively have multibillion-dollar endowments. But it wasn’t a position or field he sought out; rather, he received an invitation to help lead the foundations, and McTier accepted.
“It became something I was very happy to be involved with and never had any desire, once I was in it, to go do anything else,” he said. “Being involved in philanthropy is a great experience. It’s a high calling, and it’s something few are privileged to be able to serve.”
“Go beyond your own expectations ... from beyond where you are to where you could be.”
Throughout his career McTier’s seen “hundreds of millions of dollars flow from the organization to many important activities” and projects in the Atlanta area, including enhancements to Emory’s school of public health, improvements to the Woodruff Arts Center, and the creation of Centennial Olympic Park.
“The ability to partner with others that had resources and similar objectives was a key part of our success at the foundations,” McTier added. For example, his foundations teamed with United Way and state and federal agencies over the years to contribute to a range of educational, economic development, social, civic, arts and environmental initiatives.
One close to this fisherman’s heart? The Chattahoochee Greenway, a project which preserved more than 18,000 acres of land around the river.
McTier’s work has touched rural and urban areas, and it has affected people of all backgrounds, a broad experience he says that introduced him “to wider aspects and understanding of the world.” This idea of personal growth is central to McTier’s professional philosophy, and its advice he’d give any budding business person.
“Go beyond your own expectations ... from beyond where you are to where you could be,” he said. “The roles you’re expected to fill, whatever the endeavor might be, you should be able to make improvements [there] and advance whatever responsibilities you may have. And that includes responsibility to yourself to grow.”
Since ending his tenure — as president, then trustee — at the foundations in 2015, he remains active in the philanthropic world. He also spends a lot more time on his hobbies: golfing, hunting, fishing, and “just being outside enjoying nature and all of its many wonders.”
Like the ones you’ll find along the Chattahoochee.