Intelligent Machines

Denman McNear '48

Railroad executive stays true to fraternity

Denman McNear traces his start to the pastoral Sonoma Valley, where he was born into the fifth generation of California McNears. “My great-great-grandfather came from Wiscasset, Maine, settled in Petaluma, and started a hay, grain, and feed business—it was over 100 years old when I was a child,” he says. But, McNear continues, he didn’t stick with that business: “I chose to follow my mother’s father instead.”

McNear’s maternal grandfather, George W. Kittredge, graduated from MIT in 1877 and spent his career with the New York Central Railroad. After retiring as chief engineer, Kittredge moved to Yonkers, and McNear, his mother, and his sister “would go back every summer by train to visit Grandfather,” he recalls.

His grandfather’s career and those summer trips cemented McNear’s interest in MIT and railroads. In 1942 he enrolled at the Institute, began studying civil engineering, and joined the Beta chapter of Chi Phi house, which became his “home away from home.”

“[In a fraternity,] you develop greater relationships, appreciation, accountability, and responsibility,” McNear told the Chi Phi Chakett in 2010 after being awarded the fraternity’s highest honor, the Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. Chi Phi Congressional Award. “You have a brotherhood environment that helps us to our highest potential.”

McNear graduated in 1948, after serving two years as a radio technician for the U.S. Navy, and that summer he started his own career in the railroad industry as an engineer in the Sacramento Division Engineering Department.

As he worked his way through the ranks, McNear married, had three sons, and continued his education, earning an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1950 and attending Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program in 1966. In October 1983, he became CEO and chair of the Southern Pacific Transportation Company.

Today, McNear is retired from the railroad but still active with his fraternity and MIT. He is an honorary director of the MIT Club of Northern California and life director for the MIT Club of Cape Cod. In 1995, five years after a divorce from his first wife, McNear married Barbara Stanton Gaillard—the widow of his freshman-year roommate—and the two began visiting numerous countries and making local stops to see family and friends.

Looking back, McNear says he is most proud of “working for the railroad for 42 years, raising a family, and keeping up the tradition of the family.”

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.