According to Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble, “If Arizona had a Mount Rushmore, the men on it would be Carl Hayden, Ernest McFarland, Barry Goldwater and John McCain. “
The unprecedented career of Ernest W. McFarland (1894-1984)—U.S. Senator, Senate Majority Leader, Arizona Governor, Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, founder of KTVK in Phoenix and a Father of the GI Bill—is well documented. Less well known is his life as a family man, country lawyer, rural judge, visionary, and the story behind his unlikely rise from Oklahoma farm boy to winning the Triple Crown of Arizona politics.
A new book, “Call Him Mac: Ernest W. McFarland, The Arizona Years,” by ASU law professor and legal historian Gary L. Stuart, explores the untold story of the early life and career of McFarland and his impact on Arizona and the nation.
“He was a close confidant, on a first name basis, with the likes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Carl Hayden, Henry Fountain Ashurst – not to mention the thousands of politicians, lawyers, farmers, judges, clients, colleagues, opponents, constituents, and those who followed his path and knew what he had to overcome. Everyone knew him simply as Mac,” said Stuart.
The new book renders a moving portrait of a young, ambitious, likable man on the verge of becoming a political force and what was happening in Arizona and Washington, D. C., at the time.
Using interviews with friends, family, and extensive primary source research, Stuart spotlights McFarland’s unerring focus as a loving husband, father, and grandfather, even in times of great personal tragedy. His enormous political successes were answers to how he dealt with threats to his own life in 1919; the loss of his first wife and three children to illness in the 1930s; and a political loss in 1952 that no one saw coming.
One of McFarland’s grandsons, John D. Lewis of Chandler, said: “He was down to earth. When he served as Chief Justice the other justices didn’t appreciate that everyone called him Mac. They felt it wasn’t dignified. Despite his extraordinary achievements, he considered himself just a civil servant.”
Born on a farm in Earlsboro, Okla., McFarland enlisted in the Navy during World War I but nearly lost his life during a pneumonia epidemic in 1919. After arriving in Arizona for his health, McFarland began his journey as a farmer and teacher in Florence when he decided to embark on a career in law.
The young lawyer soon pursued a new life as a rural judge, led a successful statewide grassroots campaign for the Senate and was appointed as Senate Majority Leader during his second term in office. During this time he relentlessly pushed for, and drafted, the educational and home loan provisions of the GI Bill—considered by many as one of the most successful pieces of social legislation in history. These provisions continue to benefit millions of veterans today.
Arizona historian Vincent Murray said he worked across the aisle to get the bill pushed through after WWII.
“Mac had seen what had happened to returning vets after WWI who came home to rampant unemployment and long soup kitchen lines,” Murray said. “His provisions in the bill ultimately generated in excess of 450,000 trained engineers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, 238,000 teachers, and other college educated professionals. Millions also took advantage of the GI Bill’s home loan guaranty. From 1944 to 1952, the VA backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for WW II veterans.”
McFarland is also credited for creating the Arizona Parks System, was a staunch advocate for Arizona water rights, which he argued in front of the Supreme Court while sitting Governor, and founded KTVK, Channel 3 in Phoenix due to his fascination with the new medium of television.
“Mac was courteous, fair, impartial, and admired—something rarely seen in politics today,” Trimble said. “He rose Horatio Alger-like to become one of the most distinguished political figures in Twentieth Century America.”
The book, published by the University of Arizona Press, will be available in bookstores nationwide on Oct. 16 and online at www.uapress.arizona.edu and at Amazon.com.