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Thomas Franklin “Mack” McLarty III was the first Arkansan to serve as White House chief of staff. A kindergarten classmate and lifelong friend of President Bill Clinton, McLarty served as Clinton’s chief of staff from 1993 to 1994 and, later, as his special envoy for the Americas.
He is now president of McLarty Associates, originally Kissinger McLarty Associates, an international advisory firm created in partnership with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
Mack McLarty was born on June 14, 1946, in Hope (Hempstead County) to Thomas F. McLarty Jr. and Helen Hesterly McLarty. He has one younger brother. His father owned and operated an automobile dealership started by McLarty’s grandfather. His mother, active in community and charitable endeavors, became the first woman named to the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, the forerunner of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC).
McLarty was raised in Hope and graduated from Hope High School. He and Clinton attended kindergarten at Miss Mary Purkins School. He was an all-state high school quarterback and was elected governor of Arkansas Boys State. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1968, receiving a BA in business administration. He was UA student body president and initiated the school’s first mass transit system. After graduation, he returned to Hope, where he helped expand McLarty Companies, the family auto business, of which he still serves as chairman. At twenty-three, he was elected state representative but served only one term, choosing not to seek reelection because of growing business responsibilities. From 1983 to 1992, he was chief executive officer of Arkla, Inc., a Fortune 500 natural gas company with headquarters in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Little Rock (Pulaski County).
In 1969, he married Donna Cochran of Texarkana (Miller County), whom he met while attending UA. They have two sons.
Clinton chose McLarty as White House chief of staff because of their long friendship, his trust in McLarty’s judgment and skill, and McLarty’s successful experiences in both the public and private sector, which included positions to which he was appointed by Clinton’s predecessor as president, George H. W. Bush. During his tenure as chief of staff, McLarty championed the 1993 deficit reduction package that led the federal budget from a deficit to a surplus for the first time since 1969. He played key roles in the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Family and Medical Leave Act, and welfare reform legislation.
His collegial demeanor and bipartisan outreach as chief of staff earned him the nickname “Mack the Nice,” which some portrayed as a lack of toughness in imposing discipline in the Clinton White House. But others contended that McLarty’s niceness and inclusive approach were key to the passage of NAFTA and welfare reform while helping bridge partisan and philosophical divides.
McLarty resigned his post as chief of staff to become White House counselor for the Americas, which led to his being named special envoy to the Americas. In that post, McLarty served as the White House coordinator for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and received the Olympic Shield, the highest award given by the U.S. Olympic Committee. In 1998, he received the secretary of state’s Distinguished Service Medal for his work in international relations.
After leaving government service, he co-founded Kissinger McLarty Associates, a firm that offers strategic advisory and advocacy services to U.S. and multinational companies. In addition, he is a senior adviser for the Carlyle Private Equity Group and is director of both Union Pacific and Acxiom. He has served on the boards of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, the Council of the Americas, the InterAmerican Dialogue, Ford's Theatre, and the Center for the Study of the Presidency. He is a senior international fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
For additional information:“Big Mack.” The New Republic, July 18, 1994, p. 10.
Friedman, Samantha. “Thomas Franklin McLarty III.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 26, 2009, pp. 1D, 8D.
“Thomas F. McLarty III.” In Marquis Who’s Who. Chicago: Marquis Who’s Who, 2006.
“Washington Notebook: Clinton Visit Caps McLarty's Goodbye Party.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 18, 1998, p. 10.
James L. “Skip” Rutherford IIIClinton School of Public Service
Last Updated 9/30/2014
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