Former dean who oversaw period of college growth and change passes away

Michael Martin McCarthy, whose initiatives as dean of the Texas A&M College of Architecture from 1988-1992 spurred a period of growth that reverberates to the present day, passed away May 30, 2021 at age 76.

A major force in the development of visualization education at Texas A&M, McCarthy secured $4.5 million in initial funding to establish a visualization laboratory, and oversaw the establishment of the Master of Science in Visualization degree. Many former Aggie visualization students are now key contributors to blockbuster animated movies as well as leaders in a diverse array of disciplines.

In 1991, Texas Governor Ann Richards approved a legislative package, based on a proposal McCarthy wrote, for $2 million in funding to assist colonias settlements along the Texas-Mexico border. Today, that effort continues as the college’s Colonias Program, whose staff partner with a wide variety of public and private agencies to provide literacy and job training, health education, economic and community development for colonias residents all along the Texas-Mexico border.

During his deanship, the college also significantly bolstered its status as a leading research hub with the establishment of three new research centers: the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center, the CRS Center for Leadership and Management in the Design and Construction Industry, and the Center for Housing and Urban Development.

Another research unit, the Historic Resources Imaging Laboratory, was created during McCarthy’s time as dean. Today, the lab is known as the college’s Center for Heritage Conservation.

McCarthy also oversaw the creation of the Environmental Psychophysiology Laboratory, a research hub for the study of the built environment’s impact on the interaction between mind and body. It was the first such lab at a college of this kind in the Western Hemisphere.

Based on these and McCarthy’s numerous achievements as the College of Architecture’s dean, he received the American Association of University Administrators’ first-ever National Award for Exemplary Team Leadership.

McCarthy was born October 1, 1944, 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 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.

McCarthy earned a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 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 inaugural holder of the endowed Foundation Professorship and Murdoch Chair in the College of Environmental Planning at the University of Melbourne in Australia. During his five years in Australia, he directed a community restoration program for the village of Mt. Macedon after the Ash Wednesday Fires, which at the time were the deadliest bushfires in the nation’s history. In 1986, Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited Australia and dedicated the Mt. Macedon community recovery.

In 2000, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie asked McCarthy to keynote the historic Summit on Sustainability and Jobs. McCarthy 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 McCarthy 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 the Mississippi River corridor. He settled in New Mexico in 2017, always spending as much time as he could in nature, always learning.

Richard Nira —

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