Clara McLean, Sea-Land pioneer, dies at 100
Clara Lee McLean, a pioneering female in the early days of containerization, died on Aug. 1 at her home in Pinehurst, N.C. She was 100 years old.
Born June 19, 1910 in Maxton, N.C., she was the daughter of the late Malcom Purcell McLean and Almena McLeod Currie McLean.
She attended The Women's College of the University of North Carolina. After college, she worked for the Carolina Power and Light Corp., Maxton Seed and Feed and the Maxton Presbyterian Church as secretary to the pastor.
In the early 1930s, she joined her brothers Malcom and Jim McLean to manage McLean Trucking Co. in Winston, N.C. In the late 1950s, she helped start operations of the container shipping line Sea-Land Service, and served as the company's executive vice president until the carrier was sold to RJ Reynolds in 1969.
Clara McLean was responsible for the administration of Sea-Land's early headquarters at Port Newark, N.J. Former Sea-Land employees recall her as someone who knew every aspect of the company and served as a major contributor to the development of Sea-Land's corporate culture.
'In the formative years of Sea-Land, Clara was the heart and soul of the company. She was very kind and totally involved and very strict about office d'cor,' said Ken Johns Sr., who started his career at Sea-Land and eventually became its president. 'If an employee was not properly attired for work, they would get a note on their desk telling them to see Clara. You did not want to get one of those notes.'
She made sure that each employee's desk was cleared at the end of each workday. If something was wrong, she would leave a note for the employee to see her.
Johns, who is now chairman of R.K. Johns & Associates, recalled receiving one her notes. Then he was running Sea-Land's North Atlantic services. The manufacturer of Matchbox cars stopped by the office and told him they wanted to put out a new tractor-trailer toy with a Sea-Land container on a chassis. He left the sample on his desk when he went home. The next morning the sample was gone and replaced by a note, 'Ken, if you want your toy back, see Clara.'
“I worked with Clara my entire career and it is going to be interesting to see how history treats her. Clara was an unusual and talented person. I knew her since I was hired out of college in 1952. One of the people who interviewed me was Clara,” said Paul Richardson, who preceded Johns as president of Sea-Land.
“I don’t know if most people realize what a tremendous contribution she made,” he said. “Those of us who worked at Sea-Land all understood that. She was never looking for glory, working behind the scenes and had a lot to do with the success of McLean Trucking, and even more importantly at Sea-Land.”
Devoted to both the company and her brothers, she became an executive vice president at the company and a member of its board of directors, concentrating on personnel matters and setting various company policies and standards, Richardson said.
“They were a remarkable family. Malcom gets much of the credit and deservedly so, and Jim and Clara probably don’t get enough credit.
Most of all, she will be remembered as one of the first women to hold a senior management position in a liner carrier operation.
'She really disciplined the organization,' said Chuck Raymond, who joined Sea-Land in 1968 and now serves as chairman of Horizon Lines. 'As treasurer, she really looked after the company when money was tight.'
She moved from Llewellyn Park, N.J. in 1975 back to her hometown of Pinehurst. Many organizations benefited from her charitable donations.
'She did a lot of good things for people on the premise that there was no fanfare,' said nephew Malcom McLean Jr. 'She was a very private person that way.'
Clara McLean is survived by numerous nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by four brothers and two sisters.
Funeral services will be held at the Valley Chapel in Pinehurst. Memorial donations can be made in memory of Miss Clara L. McLean to the National Museum of the Gulf of Mexico, P.O. Box 3005, Mobile, Ala. 36652-3005, or FirstHealth Hospice and Palliative Care at 150 Applecross Road, Pinehurst, N.C. 28374. ' Chris Gillis and Chris Dupin