Our area is home to a special group of individuals who are trailblazers, innovators, and difference makers.
We call them our Movers & Shakers.
And Fort Smith Mayor, George McGill is one of them.
Whether it’s telling a great story or helping his neighbor, McGill is Fort Smith to the core.
He said the key is, “Just listening… that’s what people want. They want someone to share their story with. And often time if you listen, they’ll solve their own problem.”
The son of a minister and social worker, McGill’s heart was always for service and community.
“Our culture was like getting out among the people,” said McGill. “It was always a good place to live, even when I was a kid.”
In spite of growing up in the segregated south, racial strife was rarely an issue.
“We did a lot of things that, we lived a comfortable life, even though we didn’t have much, but we lived the storybook kind of life.”
He attended the former Lincoln High School, an all-black school in Fort Smith.
Despite the lack of resources, education was firmly rooted in every student who attended.
“The culture was one of excellence. Everybody was working toward excellence,” McGill said. “And that was ingrained in the student. Everything was driven around the world, ‘excellence'”.
McGill graduated from the University of Arkansas in Business Administration.
He used that knowledge to start his own company, McGill Insurance, which lasted 30 years, but as success grew in the late 70s, a bigger plan was taking shape.
It was an old friend, former state politician, Carol Willis, that persuaded him to try something new.
“Carol called me up and ask if I would get involved in the campaign with Bill Clinton and at that time I had no interest in politics, but he said, ‘We’ll have fun’ and we’ll travel the state,” McGill said.
After helping Clinton win the governorship and then the presidency, McGill had a chance to serve in D.C. on Clinton’s cabinet, but instead, he opted to make a bigger impact back home.
“The people around Ft. Smith began to approach me about serving in the Arkansas legislature. And at the time, I was enjoying my retirement,” McGill said. “They put up and good case and encouraged me to go up to Little Rock.”
In his first try, he was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives, serving three terms. But once again, Fort Smith called McGill back home, to fulfill a bigger purpose.
“Looking for opportunities to do good and doing an assessment, “can I…will I be able to help FSM from this position?” he said.
That question would be answered on election night, in November 2018, when McGill was elected the city’s first African-American mayor.
“When it was finally settled, I looked out and saw a mosaic. The most beautiful sight I have ever seen,” McGill said. “The African community was in the room. The Asian, Latino, my white friends, and neighbors were in the room.. the elderly were in the room. The children were in the room. They were all there saying that we were ready for a change.”
In a book, Full of Life and Adventure, a new chapter is ready to be written for George McGill.
“I firmly believe that my role is bringing people together where we can have a common sense discussion on things that are important to all of us,” he said.