“Our Founders: Mac”



Who Was Mac? | Mac Meets Lois | Melding Work, Family, and Community | Becoming a Philanthropist: Learning from Others | Mentoring as a Mission | ‘Warm Hands’ Philanthropy Becomes ‘Hands On’ | Looking Toward the Future: Creating a Foundation | A Word to Those Who Follow | Sources

Who Was Mac?

J. Warren McClure was born in Clairton, Pennsylvania in 1919, the youngest of three children. His mother passed when he was about two years old and his father, a bank worker and bank examiner, moved the family to Athens, Ohio, where Mac and his two older sisters could attend public schools and Ohio University in town.

Lois shared more about Mac’s youth:

“He was a ‘man with a plan’ which started in his youth in Athens, Ohio, where he found many ways as a youngster, and later as a high school and college student, to find money-making opportunities... He headed a small group (“McClure Electro-Art Decorating”) that did sound and lighting for college and other local events.

He had decided on a career as a commercial artist, but his family, fearing a life in Greenwich Village, persuaded him to go to Ohio University in Athens. A college professor urged him to channel his art into a master’s degree in business at Northwestern University in Chicago. He was on a work-study program, working at Armour & Company days and in college at night.

As he completed his academics, World War II was looming. On Navy Day 1941, he enlisted in the Navy. He stayed in his home state of Ohio until applying for officer training and then specializing as a bomb disposal officer, definitely considered hazardous duty. He served in that capacity on a ship in the Pacific the last year of the war. Then it was back to Chicago for Mac for a job with a radio marketing magazine, and on to Grand Forks, ND, where he served as advertising and business manager of the local newspaper and a radio station.

The ‘man with the plan’ had been diverted by the war, but as he approached his 30s he wanted to reach out and get a business of his own.”

Mac Meets Lois

As Mac explained in a journal he wrote later in life:

“It was an advertisement I placed in two issues of Editor and Publisher magazine in the spring of 1952 for less than $50 that brought to life the many opportunities that awaited me in Burlington. David Howe, a past president of the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association, interviewed me three times before I was hired on at The Burlington Free Press July 1, 1952, with the understanding that I would be able to acquire equity in the firm over time.”

Mac’s first trip to Vermont, for one of those job interviews included a Free Press outing on the steamship ‘Ticonderoga’ and he was impressed with the beauty of Lake Champlain and the surrounding area.

In 1952, Lois was living with her parents, David and Marjorie Howe, with her two young daughters, at the end of a five-year marriage.

“Lois and I became acquainted with each other and with each other’s extended families. We developed a joint circle of friends and vowed to learn from the hurt of our first failed marriages. After a small family ceremony December 15, 1954, we set up housekeeping in South Burlington Vermont. Our son Jim was born in August 1956. We forerunners of the blended families so common today.”

The couple purchased a home in South Burlington, welcomed a new son to the family, and worked hard to promote the newspaper while raising a family and serving as community volunteers.

“I was the flashy Midwesterner and she, the understated Vermonter. We were a team. I would bounce ideas off Lois while she planned for our family. She would help me with my correspondence[…], and make dozens of sandwiches for the local advertisers whom I would host over lunch hours in the ‘Top Level’ room at the newspaper... While Harry Berk, a New York city advertising executive with business interests in Burlington, and others guided me in the courting of national advertisers for our newspaper, Lois maintained the house, the children, and our affairs with such efficiency and flair that I felt I could bring home clients and associates at any time, with little or no advance notice.”

Their lives were full and followed the rhythm of the seasons and of work and school. Mac and Lois were able to get all five children together at recently opened Disneyland during a business trip to California in 1958. Lois looked back on this period and recalled:

“I hope our children lacked for nothing, not only in a material way, but knew Mac loved and cared for them. They also knew how vital his work life was. He was busy at the office and in the community, and many nights would set up a card table in the living room and continue work in the midst of family life.”

Melding Work, Family, and Community

The couple had an active social life and community was important, too. Lois served as scout leader and hospital auxiliary member and eventually served on the board of the local hospital, following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather. Mac was active in the local Chamber of Commerce activities and became a board member of the Howard Bank and the Shelburne Museum and a visiting professor at Champlain College (then a two-year business school). Mac often stated that “any community good enough to live in is good enough to support.”

When their younger daughter Judy developed cancer of the kidney at the end of the 1950s, Mac and Lois made every effort to obtain treatment for her and then made her comfortable at home in her final months of decline. Lois recalls: “After days at work, Mac would sit with her the last few nights of her life while I got some sleep.”

Lois channeled her grief into helping the family move forward and into volunteer service on behalf of the American Cancer Society in Chittenden County and the Red Cross. Mac and Lois found solace, too, in making memorial donations in Judy’s honor.

“Our first real philanthropy quite naturally followed Judy’s death in 1961, as we memorialized her with a spire for the new All Saints’ Church in South Burlington, with furnishings for her elementary school library, and, later, by dedicating rooms in her honor at the Baird children’s wing of our local hospital. Parents throughout the ages have found comfort in providing something positive for the living when they have lost their young loved ones. This closure served to renew us as well.”

During the remainder of the 1960s the couple worked to build the business and to acquire with Mac’s co-workers ownership of the Free Press. The business flourished and the group of owners acquired another newspaper – the Public Opinion in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania – to which they brought their brand of expertise honed at the Free Press.

“Like so many other families across America, in the years we were raising our family, Lois and I lived on a budget. Our family pledged funds to local civic and church causes, gifts that were “stretches” for us and we paid these pledges off in installments. Our discretionary income back then was earmarked to pay off our business debt and we were not in a position to make substantial financial contributions. So much of our giving back to our communities in those days was in the form of active community service. We used time and talent to support educational, medical, and religious organizations that, in turn, were there to enrich our lives.

As we became better known in Burlington, we sought increasing volunteer responsibilities and encouraged others to do the same. For a long time, we have believed that the more you give, the more you receive. As we became board members of organizations, we were in a position to discern each organization’s areas of greatest need, and we were poised to take a leadership role as donors, too. In 1970, we pledged what was for us our first major gift, a donation of $7,500 to Champlain College.”

Becoming a Philanthropist: Learning from Others

You might say that their path to philanthropy began with Mac and Lois’ dedication to their community and the powerful examples of generosity that prompted them – when they had the means – to bring their resources of time, talent, and treasure on behalf of community needs. Mac shared:

“It was our firm belief that the success of the newspaper was tied to the success of its community, but most of what we were able to contribute to the community back then was in the form of “sweat” and ideas. We watched and were mentored by philanthropists in our community who were to have a lasting impact on our lives: Fritz Shepardson and Electra Havemeyer Webb, among others.

In was during this time that Mac took on leadership roles in the national newspaper industry including as president of a national advertising executive association and as board member of the American Newspaper Publishers Association.

Lois recalls Mac at the dawn of the 1970s:

“Maybe he was feeling a sense of his own mortality as he considered his heavy load of debt involved in buying the business. In 1971, after much thought, he and his partners approved a pooling of interests of both newspapers with Gannett Co., Inc. of Rochester, New York, which owned about 40 newspapers at the time. At any rate, it was time for him to move on. Doing ‘the same thing every day’ was not in his game plan. He was elected to the Gannett Co., Inc. board where he served for 14 years and became the company’s first vice president of marketing.”

Mac wrote about this period:

“In 1971, when our majority ownership in McClure Newspapers was acquired by Gannett Company, Inc., several things changed the scope of our charitable giving. First, we obtained our substantial holding of Gannett stock, stock shares that were to split several times and appreciate. This would allow us to assume leadership positions in response to fund campaign appeals. Second, I had a new job, as Vice President of Marketing with Gannett Company, Inc., and we had a new hometown. Our move to Rochester that fall, brought us a new community of organizations in need of support. In addition, my employment with Gannett resulted in the matching of many of our personal donations by the Frank Gannett Foundation. We found this matching, or multiplying, of our own gifts inspired us to give even more.”

During Mac’s four years at Gannett as VP of Marketing, the company rapidly acquired newspapers across the country. The couple was able to make their first substantial charitable gifts: an endowment for the Wallace Memorial Library at RIT and a scholarship endowment for students with the highest academic averages at Champlain College.

Recalled Lois: “Five years later, Mac had accomplished all he could in that position and did not see any other place in the company for him. So he resigned at age 55, and started out again, directing marketing motivation seminars.”

Mentoring as a Mission

The McClures moved to Key Largo, Florida for its warm weather active lifestyle and stayed over a quarter of a century, returning to Vermont for summer months.

Mac mentored marketing groups across the country, seeking to energize them to work more effectively as teams and as individuals:

“The more I could mentor others to be successful, the more they would have to help their families and their communities. Through McClure Marketing Motivation and the EnerGems, I had planted lots of seeds that I hoped would bear fruit. Next, it was time for retirement from business to attend to the satisfaction of giving back to our communities.”

The Energems were part of “Freedom to Achieve,” a book and system Mac developed with Frank Smith, a former co-worker, which involved a file system for organizing tasks and inspirational readings, ten core tenets by which to live (Energems), and monthly packets of teachings and interactive activities. Mac personally responded to all who mailed him their “assignments.” Some of his most attentive students were his own adult children; even his elder grandchildren learned to recite the Energems:

“Success is nothing more than making the most of the time, talents, and treasures with which we have been blessed. All we have to do as a business or individual is to have a system of utilizing ideas that will constantly be instituted at just the right times. Ultimately, the more we make in our businesses and with our investments, the more we can give away to help others.”

In 1982, Mac began to accept fewer consulting engagements, hoping to cut down on business travel and allow more time for leisure and for travel to visit family and see new parts of the world. Lois recounted:

“I couldn’t visualize this super active man as a retiree. And he did not follow the conventional path. In the summer he had huge landscape projects at our summer home [...]. For several years he had his motivation work. And he found a new occupation waiting for him as a philanthropist.

In his retirement he worked at diversifying his investments to increase the amount he could give away. It was almost contagious; one opportunity to make a difference would lead to another. Something totally unexpected in his life ‘game plan’ had come along and he moved from being a marketing messiah to preaching his philosophy of giving with warm hands.”

Warm Hands Philanthropy Becomes ‘Hands On’

The McClures became increasingly interested in the concept of giving while alive so they could witness and influence the impact of key projects. They became interested, too, in inspiring others to give.

“It is exciting to be able to be a part of projects with grassroots beginnings, projects envisioned by those who see the needs and the possibilities for our community. How gratifying it is to be able to assist those who work on behalf of the greater good!

Between 1970 and 1995, Lois and I contributed over $16 million in leadership gifts to non-profit organizations. The great majority of these gifts have been made in the form of appreciated securities. We have learned that the timing of a gift often can be more important than its size. Usually a sizable donation given early in a fund-raising campaign assures a successful campaign. It has been our custom to pledge funds over time, however, for two reasons. First, we have set dates for the fulfillment of gift pledges with as much leeway as possible in order to enable gifts of stock and other investments to be made with an eye to market conditions, tax considerations, and the economic climate. In a broader sense, though, we have given gifts over time because we have tried to set an example for fellow donors to think beyond their current checkbook balances to what they might give over longer periods of time.

They followed and supported the progress of the Vermont Community Foundation and Mac accepted an invitation to deliver the keynote address at the Community Foundation’s 1989 annual meeting, after which time Mac and Lois decided to establish two donor-advised funds as vehicles for their philanthropy.

“By the end of the 1980s we had been a part of so many projects that others had come to think of us as philanthropists. In 1988, we were honored by the University of Vermont as the third recipients of its Ira Allen Award, presented to us in New York City by UVM President Lattie Coor.”

On that occasion, President Coor stated, “Mac and Lois McClure represent the quintessence of the Ira Allen award. Bold, charitable, supportive members of our community whose every act has been designed to help others and to inspire the rest of the community to do likewise. They are a Vermont tradition.”

Looking Toward the Future: Creating a Foundation

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of their activities of the 1980s and 1990s, Mac and Lois looked for ways to extend good works beyond their lifetimes:

“By this time, both of us had written and revised wills that specified a number of bequests to organizations we hoped would continue good works on our behalf. Over the years, however, we had made changes in the lists of designated organizations. We realized that if we could see such changes in the short run, by the time the bequests would be made the list might no longer be representative of our wishes.

“We were aware of several instances in which the truest intent of some philanthropists was overridden, if not sabotaged, by the vehicles they had chosen for their philanthropy.”

For some time, we pondered the advantages and drawbacks of establishing our own philanthropic foundation. We had worked with the Gannett Foundation and other private foundations to bring several worthy endeavors to their attention, and Lois and I had acquaintances who had founded or directed family foundations. We were becoming increasingly familiar with community foundations, too, especially since my speech to the Vermont Community Foundation in 1989.

On the occasion of my seventy-fifth birthday in 1994, our daughter, Barbara, prepared a packet of information on foundations, which she provided to encourage us to establish some structure or framework for charitable gifts in the future. She felt that a foundation might serve to perpetuate our ‘special brand of stewardship,’ what she called our ‘synergistic approach to philanthropy:’

Rather than directing your contributions to annual funds and long-established nonprofit organizations, you have focused on special needs and have worked with community, educational and medical institutions to see that your cornerstone gifts have challenged others to meet contemporary needs in creative ways. Your ongoing encouragement and review have kept fundraisers motivated and other donors challenged.

Barbara hoped that the family might work together as a foundation’s board of directors to perpetuate the McClure brand of philanthropy… She also felt that a foundation, with its public declaration of purpose and its public record of examples of our brand of philanthropy, could serve as a model for others.

Barbara’s document got us going. We sympathized with her arguments, but we had what we thought was a broader perspective on foundations. On the one hand, we had exposure to many examples of family foundations that either had abused the intent of the founder or simply served to provide some kind of acceptable employment for relatives. We felt that establishing such an organization might involve a lot of overhead costs for office and staff. More important, though, was our growing admiration of the works and workings of community foundations and our association with the Vermont Community Foundation. Consultation with David Rahr, president of the Vermont Community Foundation, further clarified the concept of the ‘supporting organization,’ which can be established as an adjunct to an existing community organization. This seemed the perfect vehicle for our philanthropic goals.

The result was the initial funding and the formation of the J. Warren and Lois McClure Supporting Organization in 1994. In 1996 and in subsequent years, other contributions and strong markets have built it to nearly $10 million.”

In 1995 the J. Warren and Lois H. McClure Foundation received its 501©3 designation and was formalized as a supporting organization of the VCF. In 2001 Lois succeeded Mac as President and daughter Barbara succeeded her as Vice President.

A Word to Those Who Follow:

Mac’s health suffered setbacks in the mid-1990s and by the turn of the century his Alzheimer’s disease became apparent. He spent the summer of 2000 with Lois and their daughter Barbara editing a journal for publication with the goal of passing along the couple’s story and their experiences as philanthropists with others.

“Another lasting gift we all can give is the gift of sharing, even recording, our lives with others. There are so many questions I wish I had asked my father, especially since I lost my mother at a young age. It has been important for me to leave a written record for my children and grandchildren and for anyone else who wanted to read about us and what life was like for us and how we looked back on our lives in the year 2000.

‘Hands-On’ Philanthropy is intended to trace the evolution of our own philanthropy from modest responses to civic and church appeals to the larger “stand alone” projects in which we assumed leadership roles and on to the formation of a foundation to carry on our work. It has been important to us to document this progression in order to set a positive example for others to follow.

We have all learned that money is not one of the greatest gifts of life. Love, health, interest in others, meaningful work, friendship, and religious values: These are what make life worth living. Yet money can help to make these values attainable for others. As communities and as individuals, the real good news for us is that none of us knows how really great we can become and how much good we really can accomplish or the limit of what we can give.

Thanks be to God, Lois and I have had less of a concern than most people for physical things for our family and ourselves. We’ve had the good fortune to enjoy a terrific marriage and a vibrant business that was a vital part of our community. Our real unexpected pleasure, though, has been our involvement in what we have been able to provide for others. In helping to promote the well-being of others through ongoing projects that should benefit others for years to come, we have found more satisfaction than we ever dreamed possible.

Lois and I believe that no one “really owns” anything and that we are merely stewards of whatever we have. Just as it is in God's nature to give to all of us, it is our belief that everyone is responsible to give to others. We feel that good works are the result of faith, and that a true sharing of time, talent, and treasures can be the key to abundant lives, satisfaction and joy.

Those of us who can give, should. It is as simple as that.”

The couple sold their Florida house in 2002 and took up full-time residence at Wake Robin continuing care community in Shelburne, Vermont, where Mac could get the care he needed and Lois could stay close to him yet remain active in the retirement community. Mac celebrated his last birthday on September 25, 2003 at camp with the family. He passed away April 7, 2004.

At Mac’s funeral, Lois distributed a pamphlet in order to put into perspective the man who gradually paled due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease in his last several years. In this she shared:

“Mac was a man who rose to every occasion, looked at every set-back as an opportunity, and was passionate in all his commitments. He was a man who always stood out, not just because he was six feet four inches tall.

As I think of it, there have been many J. Warren McClures. First, the young artistic active student, and then, the patriotic wartime Navy man. I did not know him during those parts of his life. Then came our years together with his active business life, followed by a busy retirement, fulfilling philanthropy work, and, then the onset of Alzheimer’s. Finally, for almost a year, there was still another Mac living nearby. I visited him once or twice daily. He was always glad to see me; though I am not at all sure he had any idea of our relationship.

He was quiet, kind and gentle, time ceased to matter to him. Morning or evening, what day of the week, what season of the year -- these were all irrelevant in his life. At least that is how it seems now; it could be there was another life going on that was just as far removed from me as his earlier lives before we met.

If I try really hard, I can visualize a man always “on the go.” I never knew his mother who died when he was very young, and possibly all these years she has somehow been able to take pride in the man he became."

Lois chose to memorialize Mac by establishing a recurring gift to the Shelburne Museum to support half-price entrance fees for Vermont residents.

“Even now as I go about my daily life, I know I must do it better because he knows I can.”


(1) “Hands-On” Philanthropy by J. Warren McClure with Lois H. McClure and Barbara M. Benedict, Private Publication, Charlotte, Vermont 2000

(2) “All the Macs I have known” by Lois H. McClure, brochure published April 2004 and distributed at Mac’s funeral.

(3) Oral History of Lois McClure, conducted by Greg Sharrow on behalf of Vermont Folklife Center and Vermont Society of the NSCDA (Colonial Dames). July and August, 2014