~~Ernest William McFarland (1894-1984), known throughout his career as “Mac,” served as a US Senator, Governor of Arizona, and ultimately Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, but millennials, baby boomers, and even many seniors have difficulty recalling his name or his numerous accomplishments. His life story should inspire Arizonans. His career in politics, law, as a television executive, and agribusiness titan remain unparalleled.
Born in the Pottawatomie Strip of Oklahoma in 1894 he migrated to Arizona after service in World War I seeking to broaden his opportunities. These came quickly and with a tireless work ethic, thirst for education, and the foresight to settle in Florence, Arizona—after graduating from Stanford Law School in 1921—he flourished. The growth of irrigated agriculture and his legal insights into this developing field, helped launch his political career in Pinal County as a New Deal Democrat. He soon found his way to the Pinal County Superior Court, where he served as judge from 1934-1940.
In the latter year, in what many considered an audacious move, he entered the U.S. Senate race against a twenty-eight year incumbent, Henry F. Ashurst. The colorful Ashurst underestimated the youthful attorney and jurist, remaining in Washington during the primary, while McFarland blanketed the state speaking about water issues and the war in Europe. McFarland defeated the incumbent by a three-to-one margin in the primary and went on to victory in the general election.
Father of the GI Bill of Rights (1944)
McFarland made his mark in the Senate. He sponsored over forty veterans’ bills, but his greatest contribution rested in drafting the portions of the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944--the “GI Bill”--that gave veterans access to education through tuition assistance, zero-down home loans, and low interest business loans. It improved the lives of nearly 50 million ex-servicemen and women, along with millions of their dependents. According to one historian, the GI Bill generated 450,000 trained engineers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, 238,000 teachers, and more than 1 million other college-educated professionals.
Millions also took advantage of the GI Bill’s home loan guaranty. For example, from 1944 to 1952, the Veterans Administration backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for World War II veterans. Historians have long considered the GI Bill a congressional landmark—a progenitor of the vast, prosperous middle class that distinguished American society from others during the second half of the twentieth century to the present. Arguably, the GI Bill, signed into law on June 22, 1944, was the most successful social legislation ever written and Mac was, in fact, “Father of the GI Bill.”