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Visionary Centennial Campus Planner Dies

Jerry Whitten, Claude McKinney, Ralph Cavin III, and Chancellor Larry Montieth review a model of Centennial Campus buildings, January 1991.
Jerry Whitten, Claude McKinney, Ralph Cavin III, and Chancellor Larry Montieth review a model of Centennial Campus buildings, January 1991.

Dr. Claude E. McKinney, who transformed his vision for a community of “intellectual entrepreneurs” into one of the nation’s most successful university research parks at North Carolina State University, died Tuesday in Raleigh following a long illness. He was 79.

McKinney shepherded the development of Centennial Campus, the university’s 1,300-acre research community, for more than 15 years, first as a special assistant to the chancellor and then as director of Centennial Campus, a position he held until his retirement in 2000. He also served as a professor and dean of the College of Design from 1973 to 1988.

Under his leadership, Centennial Campus took shape, growing to encompass 15 major buildings and a population of more than 3,200 faculty, staff, students, and corporate and government employees. The campus attracted a variety of tenants, such as ABB, Red Hat Inc., and the National Weather Service and saw the relocation of the College of Textiles and units of the College of Engineering. Today, the “technopolis” is home to 61 corporate and government clients, 73 university research centers and labs, and a population of nearly 7,000.

More than any other individual associated with Centennial Campus, McKinney saw the project as a way to broaden the mission of higher education.

“I have felt for many years that ‘the university’ was an underutilized resource which American corporations and government have never engaged in a proper way,” McKinney wrote. “We are in a position in which the University’s faculty can step forward, taking an initiative as intellectual entrepreneurs and through their scientific and technological advancements, contribute to the state’s economic development.”

McKinney received the 2004 Watauga Medal, the highest nonacademic honor bestowed by NC State; the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award, bestowed by then-Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. in 2000; and the Career Achievement Award for the Outstanding Research Park in 2002, given by the Association of University Related Research Parks. Claude E. McKinney Plaza on Centennial Campus is named in his honor.

McKinney graduated from Pfeiffer Junior College and from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in painting and design, then taught art for one year in Alabama before enlisting in the Navy during the Korean War. He worked for a New York animation company before returning to Raleigh in 1973.

In a 2005 profile, the News & Observer noted McKinney’s successful fight against a plan to build downtown high-rises that would have cast shadows on the state Capitol, his work to preserve old hospital buildings in Durham for the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, and his efforts to help develop Research Triangle Park.

McKinney was a charter member of the Association of University Related Research Parks, a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, an honorary associate of the American Institute of Architects and an associate member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, among many other organizations. He served as a member of the Wake County Economic Development Commission, the Wake County chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and Phi Kappa Phi of NC State, as well as numerous other boards, task forces and commissions.

Born June 9, 1929 in Greensboro, McKinney was the son of the Rev. Clyde Malone McKinney and Winnie Smith McKinney. McKinney is survived by his wife Mimi, daughter Kyle Szulik (Matthew) and their children Kaitlin, Brendan and Keenan; and son Kevin (Mary), and their children Elizabeth and James Turner, all of Raleigh

A memorial service will be held Friday at 2:30 p.m. at the Long View Center, 118 S. Person St., in Raleigh.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The Society for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy; Hospice of Wake County, 1300 St. Mary’s Street, Raleigh, NC 27605; The Claude McKinney Endowment, NCSU Libraries, Box 7111, Raleigh, NC 27695; Arts NC State, Campus Box 7306, Raleigh, NC 27695; or the charity of your choice.