Editor’s note: This is one in a series of profiles in the Humans of Wausau series, which is funded in part through a grant from the B. A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation. Follow the Humans of Wausau Facebook page here.
By Kelli Oligney for Wausau Pilot and Review
Gary McCartan, Sr., 70
Q: Where are you originally from?
How did you end up here?
There were other stops in between, but I went from Wauwatosa to Madison for my undergrad at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Then, I went to Georgetown in Washington D.C. for Law School. I came back to Milwaukee and was there for awhile; worked for a downtown law firm and didn’t like it. I worked in Baraboo for about a year for an old lawyer who was what I called the “Bull of the Panthers.” He was a big shot around there, but then I got an offer from Wausau Homes to come here; that’s what brought me to Wausau. I became the General Counsel when I was very young – I was 28. That’s what brought me to Wausau and I’ve been here ever since.
How did you like going to school at the University of Wisconsin Madison?
I loved it. They were the best years of my life. I loved the place.
What is your most memorable story from being there?
As far as a funny story, I was at a fraternity and we went to the University of Iowa for a weekend; this was when protests were going on all over the place. We broke into Kinnick Stadium there and painted a big “W” in the end zone the Friday night before the football game. Everybody was caught except me – I got away. Elroy Hirsch bailed everyone out of jail. We all ended up going to the game the next day; it was very exciting.
How was it going to law school? Did it take you awhile to finish school?
I finished college in three and a half years. I fell off a building.
Literally, fell off a building?
Literally, fell off a building; three stories and broke my legs. I was lucky to be alive.
What? How did that happen?
I was at a party, maybe on Mifflin Street. I was talking to a girl and I was on a brick wall, rocking, and the brick broke loose and I went over and landed on my legs, but they were banged up pretty good. I had casts on for a semester, but I lost a semester of school. I still graduated in three and a half years.
I’d say most people couldn’t do that. You fell off a building and still got through it in three and a half years. What are some of the positives and negatives of your profession?
Well, the positives are that you help people, or you like to think you’re helping people. You can make a good living as a lawyer and it’s very mentally challenging. There are a lot of issues to analyze and is almost like solving a puzzle. The negatives involved are billing which is always hard. Custody cases are terrible and I haven’t done them in years, but they were not good.
What was one of the hardest ages for you in life?
My childhood was very rough. I don’t like to bring everyone into it, but my childhood was very rough. Grade school years were hard due to domestic situations. I have a brother and a twin sister and we all came through pretty well from the whole situation. It was a very tough time because there was a lot of violence, police, and a lot of things you don’t want as a child. Thank God, there were no guns in my house when I was a kid or someone would be dead. It was very violent. If there were guns around, someone would be dead and maybe more than one person.
Do you think those events influenced you to pursue law school?
Absolutely; no doubt about it. By the time I was in sixth grade, I wanted to be President of the United States. From then on, I was a juvenile delinquent, for the most part. I turned around in eighth grade and by the time I got to high school, I skipped all my friends and concentrated on everything and being everything I could be; the captain of the football team, I had the lead in the school play, I was president of Student Council, and governor of Badger Boys State. I had four gold medals in state speech contests; I did everything because I wanted to get into Harvard – that’s what I really wanted, but I didn’t make it. I got a full scholarship to Madison and that was great.
Sometimes, the bad events are what shape us most and pushes us to be better.
Absolutely. I always wanted to be a lawyer and wanted to get into politics until I got to Washington. I worked for a Congressman while I went to Law School and those were the days of Watergate;. Watergate broke then, Vietnam was coming to an end. Those years in college and law school turned my world upside down as far as my thinking. I was pretty far right-wing when I came out of high school, but by the time I left law school I wasn’t even close to right-wing. School really changed my views on a lot of things.
What was one of the hardest moments of your life?
The last four years have been hard for medical reasons. I’ve had a lot of medical issues that started with heart problems that required me to get stents. I don’t want to go through them all, but I have cancer; prostate cancer, colon cancer, and have had a lot of surgeries. It’s been an unhappy time.
Are you currently on any treatment for it?
Yeah, I take chemo pills, unfortunately, and had surgery on my colon to rid myself of that cancer. My prostate cancer relocated to my chest, but it’s under control because I take a medication. Once a month I have “Cancer Days,” which is when I go into the clinic and go through a bunch of stuff, but it’s now all under control. The cancer is never gone; just under control; it doesn’t really affect me. I’m not as active or in pain as I used to be, but I play a lot of golf.
What’s your favorite local spot and why?
The Hiawatha was always my favorite spot for years and years. I knew Roger Jamgochian very well and were very good friends. I knew all his kids and everyone who worked there. In fact, I bought the place out of foreclosure in the early 80’s. He had sold it to some people on a land contract and it was going down fast. One day, they were just gone and he was left holding the bag and the place was beat up and it was going into foreclosure so I bought it out of foreclosure with the help of his father in law. After about a year or maybe less, gave it to him for not much money. He turned the place around and it became a very popular bar. I had a lot of fun times there.
What’s your favorite quote and why?
This is something I know a lot of; I have a lot of quotes. I think the quote that is on Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin is one of my favorites; “Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”
That’s very beautiful.
Every University in the country should have that on it.
I like that a lot; very nice. What’s a hidden talent of yours?
I can recite a lot of poetry; older poetry.
I love poetry. Did you ever write it as well?
Oh yeah! When I was in high school I did everything. I wrote a lot of poetry, short stories, and I memorized a lot of things. To this day I recite a lot of “Gunga Din” and “Da Besta Friend.” There’s some Italian accent ones I would do that my mother liked. I have a lot of those; a lot of quotes and poems. So, I guess that’s my hidden talent.
What made you stay in Wausau?
I have a daughter and granddaughter here and two sons in Minneapolis. I’ve stayed in Wausau because I like it here and enjoy what they’ve done downtown and like being close to Rib Mountain, the Dells of Eau Claire, having access to the Northwoods so easily. I also like the people for the most part, but don’t always agree with all the politics.
Are you still working or are you retired?
Yes, I’m semi-retired, but I do things I want to do. I still do litigation and go to court and don’t only do real estate or estate planning; I still do a lot of that though.
What advice would you give to those that wish to pursue similar dreams of yours?
You can use a law degree in a lot of different ways and is beneficial in a lot of things. I would encourage people to get law degrees to look at all the options and not just practicing law or going to a law firm, but instead, looking at all the areas you can get involved in. I look back on it and think, “I wish I would’ve gotten into sports; a lawyer for sports.” Not an agent, but something like that. I would also suggest that if you want to be a lawyer and make money, you should go into personal injury because that’s where a lot of money can be made; fast. I think people should be looking around and thinking of their law degrees and their options. Law school teaches you how to think logically and be perceptive of things.