Good bye to Walter J. McCarthy, Jr.

walterjmncarthy250719-2-005Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. died on July 24, after a fall at his home in Carmel, California. He was 88 years old. He and his wife Linda made a trip on ‘his’ boat every summer, often coming to Duluth to join the boat taking coal down to Detroit Edison, the company he retired from in 1990 after 9 years as CEO.I visited with him many times when he was in Duluth; he gave me lots of good advice.
mccarthy departs
Inset above, the Walter J. McCarthy Jr. departs Duluth on Sept 12, 2001.
mccarthysalute20130805_0036New: August 5, 2013 late afternoon
The Walter J. McCarthy Jr. departed Duluth at 5:52 pm on August 5, 2013. As she approached the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, she sounded a formal salute to the Bridge in honor of Mr. McCarthy. The Bridge returned the salute to the McCarthy.  Listen here to the salute as she came under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge. Inset, the McCarthy clears the Duluth Ship Canal after the salute.
He was a humble man and did not like to draw attention to himself. When we went out to view his boat coming in, I pleaded with him to let me share with people that he was Walter J. McCarthy, Jr. watching the Walter J. McCarthy Jr. come in the Duluth ship canal. He said no. He was no different than any other tourist though; he wanted me to take a picture of him watching the boat; he just didn’t want anybody else to know who he was. Hwalterjmccarthy250719-1-005e did suffer some humiliation once when he came into my offices looking for me and ran into my assistant at the time who was, coincidently, printing a picture of his boat. He asked if I was around; when she asked him who he was, and he told her, she did not believe him; she even laughed a little. It was a funny incident but you have no idea how embarrassed my assistant was when she found out who he really was. He laughed louder than either of us; she also gave him the picture she was printing and she felt better. Another time, I was driving him around town and began to be concerned that we might be late for the departure of the boat from Midwest Energy. He coyly said to me that when they name a boat after you, they tend to hang around until you arrive before departing.
He remained an engineer his entire life. Most every year, he and Linda took a trip to an interesting place in the world. There was usually a boat involved at some point in his travels. I enjoyed hearing about the last trip when they came to Duluth. It was usually a little too technical for me since he spent a good bit of time with the men in the engine room, even when they were riding on a river in China, and he was down there; somehow communicating through the significant language barrier. They were not used to visitors coming down to the engine room and knowing as much as they did about how it all worked. I will miss him a lot.
Here is an obituary courtesy of the Detroit Free Press
Walter J. McCarthy Jr.: Ex-CEO of Detroit Edison, who led nuclear energy efforts, dies at 88–7/30/2013 – Walter J. (Mac) McCarthy Jr. was a leader in the field of nuclear energy, taking a career path that led him to the top spot at Detroit Edison. Mr. McCarthy, also known for his philanthropic work, died Wednesday in a hospital following a fall at his home in Carmel, Calif. He was 88.
His namesake, the 1,000-foot vessel Walter J. McCarthy Jr. is a familiar sight on the Great Lakes. Mr. McCarthy was the CEO of Detroit Edison, now DTE Energy, from 1981 until his retirement in 1990. A hallmark of his tenure was overseeing the development and the beginning of commercial operation of the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant near Monroe. He guided Detroit Edison both through growth and difficult financial times, said Caren Byrd, a friend who worked with Mr. McCarthy at the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. “He was one of the most respected CEOs in the industry” and a pioneer in the field of nuclear energy, she said. “He had a national, worldwide reputation, particularly for his strong leadership and integrity.”Mr. McCarthy’s grandson Jordan Haedtler said his grandfather worked hard to ensure that Fermi 2 complied with stringent new standards put in place following the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster. Mr. McCarthy was a lifelong advocate for safe nuclear power. He served as chairman of INPO, a group formed after Three Mile Island to monitor nuclear plants. Byrd said Mr. McCarthy was also instrumental in forming the World Association of Nuclear Operators.
Mr. McCarthy had a special fondness for New York City, where he was born in 1925. “He knew every inch of New York. His father and grandfather owned the ferry that was replaced by the George Washington Bridge,” said his wife, Linda McCarthy. Mr. McCarthy graduated from Cornell University in 1949. He married Alice Ross that same year and moved to Birmingham. Later, in 1988, he wed Linda McCarthy. Haedtler said that in 1952, his grandfather was picked to head the nuclear and analytic division of the Enrico Fermi Breeder Reactor Project, which explored nuclear energy’s potential. Mr. McCarthy was also involved with the development of Fermi 1 nuclear power plant and helped manage a partial core meltdown there. He joined Detroit Edison in 1963. Mr. McCarthy was chair of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 1980 to 1987. In the early 1980s, he was one of the founders of the Distinguished Clown Corps, a group of corporate and community leaders who donate money to march down Woodward Avenue in clown suits during America’s Thanksgiving Parade. Mr. McCarthy moved to Carmel when he retired. He served as president of the Monterey Symphony. Along with his wife, Mr. McCarthy is survived by daughter Sharon; sons Walter, Dave, Jim and Bill; stepdaughters Carrielynn, Laura and Lisa, and 14 grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra or Youth Orchestra Salinas. A memorial service is planned for Aug. 10 at the Church in the Forest in Pebble Beach, Calif.
Detroit Free Press


  1. Very touching article, Ken. The bridge salute sounds so sorrowful.

  2. Theodore Calhoon says:

    Thanks so very much for your great article–you captured the Mr Mac that we knew and loved. A truly remarkable man, he was at once a scientist, an engineer, a teacher–and so much more. He was also a very dear friend, and one of the five people who have the greatest influence on my 76 year life!
    Goodbye, Mr Mac–we miss you—thanks for being such an important part of our lives—


  3. Melissa McCorison says:

    My dad, Lyle McCorison, is a wheelsman on the McCarthy. He stood on the deck today as she went under the bridge and blew the horns to honor Walter. He has sailed for many years with the last several on the McCarthy and has always prided himself on its prestige and great crew. On behalf of my dad and our family, we send our condolences.

  4. We were in Duluth Sunday and Monday. We saw 9 boats on the harbor tour, 3 1000 footers! We knew it was leaving and read about the tribute leaving the harbor. It was cool to see 2 boats leave back to back. The horn tribute was neat to hear knowing what it meant as that big boat was leaving the harbor. A fitting tribute to what seems a great person.

  5. Ken, this was a wonderful, touching article.
    What a very classy man Mr. McCarthy Jr. was. It was especially touching for me to see him standing in the crowd, watching his namesake come in and no one around him had any idea who he was. This speaks volumes about the kind of person he was.
    I was moved also by the salutes exchanged by the great ship Walter J. McCarthy Jr., and the Duluth aerial lift bridge. What a fitting salute to give a fine man. I offer my sympathy and condolences to his family and to his friends. This man will be missed.

  6. My thoughts and prayers go out to the McCarthy family; many of the boatnerds around the Great Lakes I am sure are doing the same. 3 long and 2 short, Mac!

  7. Mary Ann says:

    Thank you to Ken for the wonderful article. And condolences to the McCarthy family.

  8. To the McCarthy family:
    Thank you for kind remarks on this page. I am very happy that I can share some of my wonderful moments with Mr. McCarthy.

    The boat is scheduled to arrive under the Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge Monday morning at 6:15. When she departs, late Monday afternoon, the Captain will salute the Bridge in honor of Mr. McCarthy and the bridge will respond, in his honor. I will update the schedule on the departure time. The Captain will give me a 2 hour call. The schedule is here:

    There is a Webcam, with audio, in my office, that is always on the Lift Bridge at
    I will also be out making a video that i would be happy to make available to you.

    One other memory: Most of my time with Mr. McCarthy was spent talking and listening, but i did get called upon to help solve a problem he and Linda were having as they prepared to leave their room at South Pier Inn looking out at the Lift Bridge. Linda couldn’t get her suitcase closed and Mr. McCarthy was on the floor trying to close it when he looked up at me with the answer; he asked me to stand on Linda’s suitcase. After a moment of hesitation, i walked to the top of the suitcase, and he snapped it shut; mission accomplished. Engineers know how to fix things.
    Best wishes to all of you

  9. James H. McCarthy says:

    Hi, Ken. You lost a friend, one my Dad was proud to know. Boats, ship-yards, and the folks around boats: those were key parts to Mac’s life, things as Mac got older he treasured all the more, that kept him sharp, looking forward, planning the next trip. He probably told you this, that directly after graduating high school, during the war, he worked as an apprentice diesel mechanic in a ship-yard near his native Manhattan. Thanks for your kind words.

  10. Sharon McCarthy says:

    Linda mentioned this article and I was happy to read it- my Dad so loved his time with boats and especially with his namesake. Thank you for sharing your memories, and for this lovely tribute to him- Sharon

  11. Barbara and Frank Siepker says:

    Indeed you captured the glowing beauty and integrity of this wonderful man. Being in his presence on the Walter J. was and will always be our most favorite vacation ever. Thank you for sharing for all who may not have had the privilege of knowing him.

  12. Linda McCarthy says:

    Dear Ken,
    Bless you! What an outstanding job of writing. You really captured Mac and I cried reading it. Thank you so much for such a lovely tribute to the love of my life and the most honorable, brilliant and just-plain-fun person I ever knew. If I ever get back to Duluth — you get a hug.
    Gratefully, Linda

  13. Jill in Alabama says:

    Great article, Ken! It’s so interesting to know about the gentleman behind a very classy boat. God bless Walter J. McCarthy, Jr., his family, and you too, Ken.

  14. Pat Meisner says:

    My condolences on the loss of your friend, Ken, and thanks for posting your farewell. I was disappointed years ago when they renamed the Belle River after him, but your story shows that decision was a fitting tribute to a great man and a life well lived.
    Grammie Pat
    West St. Paul, MN

  15. Ali (AKA: Shipyard Sally) says:

    R.I.P Mr. McCarthy

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