Spotlight On: Hayden McIlroy, A Distinguished Alumnus Deeply Rooted in the History of the U of A and Fayetteville
These honorees are folks who continue to bring national and local prominence to the university, community and state through their research, exemplary public and community service, and valued leadership.
And one of this year’s honorees – Hayden McIlroy, chair of the board and chief executive officer of HM Investments – was practically born for the role.
In November, McIlroy was recognized with a Citation of Distinguished Alumni during the annual awards celebration, but he and his family’s history and support of the University of Arkansas and its surrounding community goes back a span of nearly 150 years.
Growing Up On Campus, Literally
As a University of Arkansas student in the 1950s and 60s, McIlroy would walk to class from his family home situated just on the edge of campus.
“In the 40s they had a tremendous ice storm,” said McIlroy, who earned his Bachelor of Science in business administration from the Sam M. Walton College of Business in 1962.
“The football players in the dorm at the top of the hill of Dickson opened the fire plugs and created a great skating rink all the way down Dickson Street to the railroad tracks,” he said.
The McIlroy family is “interwoven into the fabric of the university, the core of the university, Old Main and everything,” said Jim Blair, an emeritus member of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, retired general counsel of Tyson Foods, and a current member of the Fulbright College Campaign Committee along with McIlroy.
McIlroy’s ancestors would later transfer this land, which was the initial 160 acres that the state’s first public university, the University of Arkansas, was established on in 1871.
Now, the University of Arkansas Press, at the corner of Fairview Street and McIlroy Avenue, is located in the McIlroy House, named for the family.
McIlroy Family’s Fayetteville Roots
While McIlroy’s family has many direct ties to the university, the family’s roots are also ingrained throughout the City of Fayetteville.
“Hayden inherited control of the oldest bank in Arkansas. He started to work at the McIlroy Bank, even though he controlled it, as a teller. And he took all the jobs, all the way up to CEO and chairman,” Blair said.
McIlroy worked for the McIlroy Bank and Trust, now part of the Arvest Group, for 25 years. However, despite his many successes in life, Blair said McIlroy continues to remain compassionate.
“Hayden is a mixture, a contradiction in some ways. He is a very, very successful businessman. You don’t think of a hardnose businessman being a really compassionate person, but Hayden is exactly that,” Blair said.
“He cares about the underdog, the underprivileged, the underclass. He wants to see the whole community prosper and he wants to see it educated.”
McIlroy Family Distinguished Visiting Professor
McIlroy’s passion for education, Fayetteville and the U of A ultimately led him to establish the McIlroy Family Distinguished Visiting Professorship for Visual and Performing Arts with his wife, Mary Joe McIlroy, through a $1 million gift in 2005.
The couple created the visiting professorship for the benefit of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, with the intent for it to serve as a catalyst to strengthen the bonds between the college and the Walton Arts Center for the betterment of the surrounding community.
“I really have always had a passion for the arts,” McIlroy said.
Each year, the McIlroy Professor serves as a visiting professor for a semester at the university and their time culminates in a performance, an exhibition or master class at the Walton Arts Center or the university.
Additionally, the visiting professor also teaches classes, leads master classes, and mentors and advises university students during their time on campus.
“Thanks to Hayden and Mary Joe’s incredible generosity and ongoing support, we’ve been able to bring fantastic artists to campus,” said Todd Shields, dean of Fulbright College.
“These folks have given our students and our community such wonderful exposure to interdisciplinary arts by creating conversations and spurring creative exploration and thought – which are core tenants of a liberal arts education.”
Shields said this past year’s two McIlroy Professors included award-winning poet, art critic and curator John Yau, and acclaimed, genre-defying MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant recipient Jonathan Lethem, whose novel, Motherless Brooklyn, was made into a film starring Edward Norton in 2019.
Other previous McIlroy Professors have included visionary music business leader Al Bell; businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, Bernard W. Kinsey; actor, author, director, screenwriter and narrator Peter Coyote; and sculptor, photographer and performer Lesley Dill – to name but a few.
“Through this professorship and in so many other ways, Hayden and his entire family have created such a meaningful living legacy for our campus, the Fayetteville community, the state and beyond,” Shields said.
In his recent Alumni Awards Celebration video, McIlroy thanked his family, his wife and daughters – Melissa Hawkins of Little Rock; Melinda McIlroy of Fayetteville; and Michelle McIlroy of Dallas – for their continued support and credited them as his inspiration.
“It’s no work for me to be involved with the University of Arkansas,” he said. “It’s a pleasure.”