Who’s Leo?

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There’s a name that graces our door and the suite of offices located in Masonic #103 and we mention this name dozens of times a day – it’s listed on every brochure, rack card and report that cross our desks. Many of our students never had the chance to meet Leo Tarsicius McCarthy and even now rarely find faculty and staff that knew and worked with the Center’s namesake.

Who was Leo T. McCarthy?

Leo T. McCarthy is well known for being the longest serving Lieutenant Governor of California where he served for three consecutive terms – twelve years. However, Leo McCarthy began serving the public long before holding statewide office – he was passionate about public service, which he turned into a career spanning more than 30 years.

After moving to San Francisco in 1933 at the age of four from Auckland, New Zealand, Leo McCarthy went on to become a student of San Francisco’s educational institutions including Mission Dolores Elementary School, St. Ignatius College Preparatory and earned his Bachelor’s from the University of San Francisco. Afterward he went on to serve his country during the Korean War in the United States Air Force. Upon returning from active duty, McCarthy went back to continue his education and earned his J.D. in 1961.

In 1958, McCarthy transitioned into politics by managing Senator John McAteer’s successful campaign for the California State Senate. Leo McCarthy himself made the decision to run for office in 1963 and was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. After five years serving as a Supervisor, he was elected to the State Assembly where he served as Speaker of the Assembly for six years.

In the early 1980s, McCarthy ran a successful campaign and moved on to become a statewide elected official. As California’s longest serving Lieutenant Governor, McCarthy’s political work revolved around economic development, international trade, education, health and the environment. He firmly believed in social justice and equal opportunities for everyone – foundations that shape our core values here at the Leo T. McCarthy Center.

In 2001, the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good was established on the campus of the University of San Francisco and our doors opened in 2002. McCarthy was inspired in part from believing strongly in the importance of education and by Father Steven Privett, who at his inaugural speech spoke of “educating for a just society”. The mission and core values of the Center echoes McCarthy’s professional ethics where his colleagues often spoke of McCarthy as hardworking, honest, and a champion for justice. 

As a public official, family man and mentor, Leo’s life is an ideal to be emulated, said Art Agnos who served as Speaker Leo T. McCarthy’s Legislative Assistant before eventually becoming Mayor of San Francisco.

Former McCarthy Fellow in Sacramento student and current Board member, Casey Farmer recalls…

I met Lt. Governor Leo McCarthy as a junior during my Honors Public Service Thesis Course in the McCarthy Center, he was our first guest speaker of the semester. I distinctly remember his genuine and kind spirit, his bright mind and fascinating stories, and his passionate dedication to improving the lives of Californians.

While he passed away in 2007, his legacy lives on through the students who come through the Leo T. McCarthy Center with intentions of pursuing professional careers in civic engagement, political activism and public service – qualities which he cherished and modeled for generations to come.

The McCarthy Center will urge students who pass our way to embrace passionately some mission in public service.
—Leo T. McCarthy, Founder

NOTE: A generous year-end gift helps fund Leo T. McCarthy Center graduate students: $500 covers the cost of books and materials for a  student in our Master of Public Affairs or Master of Arts in Urban Affairs programs.

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One thought on “Who’s Leo?

  1. Pingback: McCarthy Center Rockstars | Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good

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