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Creating a Library Legacy is a Family Matter

When someone makes an extraordinary mark on the world, how do you best sustain that work after he is gone? For the McMullan family, it wasn’t just about sustaining the spirit of husband/father James McMullan, it was how to scale his remarkable legacy, strengthen its impact and broaden its reach for years to come.


“Dad believed you were put on this planet to do something productive,” emphasizes his daughter Carlette, who worked as her father’s business partner at William Blair & Company for 23 years. So the family followed his lead, creating the James and Madeleine McMullan Family Foundation, named in honor of their late father and their very much alive mother, Madeleine, herself an enthusiastic champion of libraries.
Today, the family’s foundation is an important supporter of Chicago Public Library programs, through their gifts to the Chicago Public Library Foundation. “Chicago Public Library is the epitome of what my father would be in favor of supporting,” says Carlette. “He was such a person of integrity. He mentored so many people in the investment business. He also cared a great deal about civil rights and social justice.”
“Both my parents believed in the freedom that books give. Everybody can read at a library. You can get educated at the library for free. It opens the world,” adds daughter Margaret, a writer who has taught classes at Chicago Public Library.
So it’s no surprise that the first major gift the McMullans made was to support Rahm’s Readers Summer Learning Challenge, the Library’s reading and learning program. Prior to making the gift, Carlette went on a tour of several Library branches.
“Everyone was so respectful. I thought, this is working. This is a vital part of the community. Then I heard that the program would benefit from a major sponsorship and I thought, ‘Let me see what I can do.’” As the Summer Learning Challenge grew in popularity, so did the McMullans’ commitment to the Library.
“What I admire about all the CPL programs is that they foster a sense of community with all of Chicago. I was moved by the inclusiveness of Teacher in the Library. I saw dynamic educators who were really cool, taking time to help students with homework,” says Margaret. So the McMullans began supporting Teacher in the Library, part of CPL’s Homework Help program that helped students through more than 95,000 sessions over the 2014-2015 school year.
“Children are free to bring homework to the library to get help with algebra or grammar,” adds Madeleine.” This could change a child’s life.” Madeleine, Carlette and Margaret all agree Jim McMullan would be proud of his growing legacy. “Libraries are such vital parts of the city, and they need to be supported,” notes Carlette.
“If you give to the Library, you know it’s going to the right place,” says Margaret. You are putting resources into communities that need it. It’s a no brainer.

We Asked: What’s on their bookshelves?

  • Carlette grew up reading biographies like Diary of Anne Frank
  • Margaret is creating her own One Book program in hometown Pass Christian, Mississippi, launching the program with Dead Wake by Erik Larson
  • Madeleine is in two book groups and is reading The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, by Christopher Scotton

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Public Library and Chicago Public Library Foundation’s joint Annual Report. Thank you to our good donors who make the successes possible for the Chicago Public Library. Please consider contributing a donation of your own here.