Paul McCarron, former county commissioner, dies at 79

Paul McCarron, who served on the Anoka County Board for 20 years and for 10 years before that in the Minnesota House, died Sunday morning at the age of 79.

Paul McCarron
Paul McCarron

McCarron, Spring Lake Park, was chairman of the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority at the time of his death.

According to his wife, Lois, McCarron had chaired the housing and redevelopment authority meeting June 25, although he was ill and was told not do so.

“Paul would not miss the meeting for anything,” Lois said. “He had a big heart.”

McCarron was admitted to the University of Minnesota Hospitals the next day, June 26, and apart from coming home for a few hours one day last week, he remained at the hospital or in rehabilitation until his death Aug. 11, she said.

“His heart gave out,” Lois McCarron said.

Funeral service for McCarron will take place tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 17), 1 p.m. at the Church of St. Cecilia, 2357 Bayless Place, St. Paul, with visitation at the church one hour prior to the Mass.

This evening (Friday, Aug. 16), there will be visitation at Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel, Coon Rapids, with Disabled American Veterans and American Legion services at 7 p.m.

McCarron was born April 5, 1934 in south Minneapolis and attended Minneapolis Washburn High School until he joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 16 in 1951, at the time of the Korean War.

“Paul lied about his age and signed his mother’s name,” Lois McCarron said.

He served aboard the USS Pocono, an amphibious force flagship and was part of the admiral’s staff, first as a printer and then as a journalist after he got his hand caught in the printing press, she said.

McCarron earned his GED while in the U.S. Navy, where he served almost four years.

He attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul.

His first job after leaving the Navy was as a bartender until he was kicked in the face by a patron, according to Lois McCarron.

“That ended bartending,” she said.

McCarron then went to work as a troubleshooter for John Daley, chief executive officer of the Regal Company, a boat maker, she said.

McCarron moved to Spring Lake Park in 1965 and he became involved in politics, first as a member of the Spring Lake Park Planning Commission, then he was elected to the Spring Lake Park City Council in the late 1960s.

He lost his first election when he ran for a spot on a sewer board in the 1960s, but won every election after that, Lois McCarron said.

McCarron was elected to the Minnesota House as a DFLer in 1973 and served until 1982.

During that time, he became chief executive officer of McGregor Agri-Corp Inc. in McGregor, a branch of the Regal Company, and it employed several people he had worked with at Regal before, Lois McCarron said.

“At one time, it was the largest employer in McGregor apart from the school district,” she said.

The company made products for the agricultural industry, Lois McCarron said.

McCarron sold his interest in the company to a couple of employees when he retired 10 years ago.

While he was serving in the Legislature and then the county board, McCarron would drive to McGregor once a week and spend a day in the office.

And even when he retired, he continued to make sales trips on behalf of the firm to customers in states like Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Iowa until 2011, according to Lois McCarron.

McCarron gave up his legislative seat to run for and be elected to the Anoka County Board in 1982, where he served until the end of 2002 when he decided not to seek re-election.

Serving on the board at that time was former Commissioner Dan Erhart, who was elected to the board the same year as McCarron and was chairperson in 2002 when McCarron retired.

“Paul was a person of high integrity and high capability,” Erhart said this week.

“He was honest and dependable second to none and whenever Paul gave you his word, you could bank on it.”

According to Erhart, McCarron was key to moving Anoka County forward and presenting it as a leading county in both the state and the country.

“Paul was key to the county’s progress and a great leader, so dedicated and generous with his time,” Erhart said.

McCarron was one of the movers and shakers in the effort to bring the Northstar Commuter Rail project to reality, serving as chairperson of both the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority and the Northstar Corridor Development Authority during his tenure on the board, according to Erhart.

McCarron also spearheaded the creation of the county board’s committee system, which revamped the process of county government and made it more efficient, Erhart said.

Throughout his years on the county board, McCarron voted to do what was best for the county, not worrying whether it would get him re-elected or not, he said.

Anoka County Administrator Jerry Soma counts McCarron as one of his friends, he said.

Soma has been with the county since 1966. He was Anoka County Corrections Department director when McCarron joined the board in 1982 and became human services division manager a few years later.

“Paul was a very intelligent person, a behind the scene guy, who was the person I would go to when I wanted to test an idea,” Soma said.

“He would offer his opinion and if it was good, then I would run with it.”

Not only did McCarron lead the way in putting in place the county board’s committee process, he also developed the division manager system to strengthen county government, according to Soma.

“He was very interested in how government operates,” Soma said.

McCarron was also keenly aware of what was happening at the Legislature and because of his prior experience there, he was the “go to guy” on legislative issues, he said.

Soma dealt with McCarron directly in the years he served as chairperson of the Human Services Committee.

“He was always creative, willing to listen to new ideas,” Soma said.

And as chairperson of the Finance and Capital Improvements Committee for many years, McCarron was a fiscal conservative, he said.

McCarron was also instrumental in forming the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, but he was very careful not to step on the toes of the cities that had their own housing and redevelopment authorities, Soma said.

Under his leadership, the county authority did not tax those cities that had their own housing and redevelopment authorities, he said.

“Paul made sure there was cooperation,” Soma said.

According to Soma, he and McCarron spent a lot of time together at conferences discussing philosophical issues.

“I am going to miss Paul,” Soma said.

McCarron’s retirement from the county board did not mean he slowed down and it allowed him travel to Ireland every year, instead of once every two years.

“Paul was very proud of his Irish heritage,” Erhart said.

In fact, he was a dual citizen of the United States and Ireland, according to Lois McCarron.

Every year in Ireland, they would stay on the hill that overlooked the family homestead near the town of Druminane in County Monaghan, Lois McCarron said.

“We have so many friends in Ireland,” she said.

While he was never able to trace the lineage too far back on the McCarron side of his family, he was able to on his grandmother’s side, the Sherry’s, Lois McCarron said.

“We have videos of both sides of the family in Ireland,” she said.

Those trips to Ireland also included stops in other parts of Europe to visit people McCarron had met through his membership in the Spring Lake Park Lions Club.

“We have friends from Slovakia who will be at the funeral because they are over here now,” Lois McCarron said.

McCarron did not forget his service in the U.S. Navy either.

For many years and still at the time of his death, McCarron was chairperson of the Navy Recruiting District Advisory Council, a volunteer group that raises money each year to support the work of recruiters and has an annual banquet when a check is presented, according to Lois McCarron.

He would also go to several Navy reunions, up to four each year at one time, including the USS Pokono, Lois McCarron said.

And when the McCarrons started spending winters in Florida, he joined the Florida Navy Sailors Club, she said.

“Paul was very generous in support and activities that came from his naval career,” Erhart said.

McCarron had life memberships in the DAV, Fridley American Legion, Spring Lake Park VFW and Spring Lake Park Lions Club and was also a longtime member of the Fridley-Columbia Heights Rotary Club.

According to Lois McCarron, he earned many top honors from both the Lions International and Rotary International service organizations.

Besides Lois; McCarron is survived by his son, Shane (Alexis); daughter, Janet (Dennis); grandchildren, Taylor, Nicholas Paul, Mariahna, Jessica, Aiden and Madeira; and 10 honorary grandchildren in Ireland.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]