Donald “Don” McCarthy will be memorialized as a combat-decorated naval officer in World War II, and a driven but humble CEO of what is now Xcel Energy who liked to remind people that he had to repeat ninth grade.
McCarthy died in January at the age of 95.
“Luck” was usually the first word McCarthy used when describing his success, recalled his son, Tom McCarthy.
Don McCarthy felt he was fortunate to have parents who sent him to the academically rigorous Blake School.
He also said he was lucky to get into the Naval Academy, only because the incoming class in 1940 was expanded because of World War II.
And McCarthy believed he was lucky to get four weeks of shore leave at the end of the war in 1945. He took a typing class, where he met Anne Leslie, who would become his wife of 60 years and mother to their four children.
McCarthy made his way up through the ranks at Northern States Power (NSP), where he was known for commitment to company and community. He made it his business to know as many employees as possible.
“Dad believed that anything worth doing was worth giving his best,” recalled Tom McCarthy. “Aside from his work at NSP, Dad believed that everyone should step forward to contribute to make a better community. Time and again, he stepped forward to do his part.”
Among McCarthy’s community efforts was serving the United Way campaign and helping many of the agencies it supported.
If crews had to go out in the middle of the night to repair downed power lines after bad weather, McCarthy likely would show up to thank them.
He also believed all that happened on his watch was his responsibility.
McCarthy was devastated by a 1980s scandal that cost the jobs of three NSP executives, fired by the board, for offering a job to a top state regulator at the time the Public Utilities Commission was considering an NSP rate case.
A former state prosecutor hired by the board found that McCarthy knew nothing of the scheme. McCarthy blamed himself for the scandal, a few years before his 1988 retirement.
McCarthy, a destroyer officer in the Pacific who was recalled for sea duty during the Korean War, believed in the “stakeholder” model of business.
“Don talked about the three-legged stool — customers, shareholders and employees — and how the groups needed to be in balance,” said Steve London, a former NSP communications executive. “Don believed that we had a special responsibility to our customers as a regulated utility. He authorized significant and regular corporate credibility research to ensure that we were meeting and exceeding customer expectations.
“He had more integrity and decency than any executive I ever knew. NSP was an environmental leader under Don. We made our coal plants as clean as possible, and we were an industry leader in reducing emissions,” London said.
McCarthy cared about NSP’s people, performance and reputation.
“You know,” McCarthy said in 1988, “we live here, too. We can’t pick up our poles and transmission lines and move to Texas or East Podunk.”
McCarthy was preceded in death by his wife, Anne Leslie McCarthy. He is survived by four children, Donald Jr. of Tucson, Ariz.; Peter of Mendota Heights; Thomas of Medina; and Jill of Golden, Colo., and six grandchildren.
A public memorial service will be held at noon April 14 at the Lakewood Cemetery Chapel in Minneapolis.