William McGuire, who led the former Duke Power during some of its fastest growth and into the nuclear age, died Wednesday in Charlotte. He was 102.
McGuire’s name marks one of Duke’s most familiar landmarks – the McGuire Nuclear Station on Lake Norman.
McGuire, a native of the N.C. mountain town of Franklin, joined Duke’s legal department after graduating from Davidson College and earning a law degree at Duke University.
“Conspicuously able and dependable,” says a corporate history, “Electrifying the Piedmont Carolinas,” McGuire was groomed for management and named president in 1959. He was 48.
“He grew up in Duke Power, but he had an outsider’s view of what needed to be done,” said retired vice chairman and general counsel Steve Griffith.
Griffith, who went to work for Duke in 1964, recalled McGuire’s intellectual curiosity, appetite for work and a management style that expected performance rather than dictated tasks.
As a young corporate president, McGuire redid Duke’s compensation program and rebuilt its public affairs and marketing functions. Griffith credits McGuire with the hard decision to guide Duke into nuclear power; the company has since run some of the most efficient plants in the nation.
“He was one of my heroes. I always called him Mr. McGuire. He wanted me to call him Bill, and I just couldn’t do it,” Griffith said. “He was just a regular guy who was leading a big company and doing a fabulous job.”
During his 12-year tenure, Duke filled Lake Norman, its last and biggest impoundment on the Catawba River.
In 1965, McGuire reported to shareholders “by far the biggest year of industrial expansion in the company’s history,” breaking records for revenue, energy sales, generating capacity and other measures.
The coal-fired Marshall power plant began operating that year.
Duke also announced plans in 1965 for its first commercial nuclear plant and an innovative pumped-storage hydroelectric plant in the northwestern corner of South Carolina. McGuire fought off a move by Interior Secretary Stewart Udall to intervene on grounds the plants weren’t needed.
McGuire declared that it was “the first time that the Secretary of Interior or any other officer of the federal government has ever suggested that he knew more about our future requirements than we did.”
The Oconee nuclear plant’s first unit began operating in 1973, two years after McGuire retired. The McGuire plant started up in 1981.
McGuire served as a trustee of the Duke Endowment from 1965 to 1988 and as a board member of the Charlotte branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. He was a founder, in 1968, of the National Electric Reliability Council, which sets electric-industry standards.
A devoted family man, he’s survived by four children, nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.