James Wright McLernon, 92, of Stuart, Florida and Bloomfield Hills, passed away March 21, 2020 at his home in Michigan.
He was born in Kenmore, New York on August 7,1927, son of the late Robert McLernon and Katherine Wright McLernon. He was the brother of Samuel McLernon and Richard McLernon who are deceased and a sister Katherine Holler. Jim was a graduate of Kenmore West High School as was his wife of 51 years Nancy A. (Stilwell) McLernon who passed away in 2001.
Mr. McLernon served in the Navy Air Corp during World War II. He was very proud of his service and often told stories about the reconnaissance missions he flew on.
Mr. McLernon began his 48 year career in the automotive industry as an hourly worker at the Chevrolet Tonawanda Plant in New York. He attended night school at the University of Buffalo receiving his degree in Industrial Engineering. He rose rapidly through the ranks at General Motors and became General Manager of the Chevrolet Division in 1968.
After 27 years at General Motors, he was recruited in 1976 to be the first President of Volkswagen of America. In 1978 he opened the VW manufacturing plant in New Stanton, PA. and also managed the distribution of Audi and Porsche. He resigned from VW in 1982.
Mr. McLernon went on to be the Executive Vice President at Creative Industries and had significant impact on increasing sales to their automotive and aerospace customers before the company was acquired by Masco Industries.
During the late 1980's Mr. McLernon was chairman of South Charleston Stamping and Manufacturing a wholly owned subsidiary of the Park Corporation. Through his leadership this role evolved into the creation of the American Axle Corporation. Founded with his partners and good friends Raymond Park and Morton E. Harris. Five closed General Motors manufacturing plants were acquired to start American Axle. In 1996 the new company exceeded $2 billion in revenues. Mr. McLernon was proud to have reopened these manufacturing plants which provided jobs and economic benefits for many communities. He retired from his position as Chairman of the Board of American Axle in 1997.
Mr. McLernon was a strong supporter of his Alma Mater the University at Buffalo, where he received a B.S. in Engineering. He always felt indebted to the university for providing the education that lead to his success. In 1978 he established the James and Nancy McLernon Superior Scholars Endowed Program. In 2007 he established the Nancy McLernon and Samuel R. McLernon Memorial Scholarship Programs for the Colleges of Engineering and Nursing for graduates of Kenmore West High School. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters and the Samuel P. Capen Award for Distinguished Alumni. Mr. McLernon served as the Director of The University at Buffalo Foundation.
Over the years Mr. McLernon was recognized for his exemplary management style and expertise in manufacturing. In 1981 he received a Distinguished Service Citation and was entered in the Automotive Hall of Fame. Lawrence Technological University also granted him an Honorary Doctorate in Engineering.
Mr. McLernon was nothing if not humble and incredibly optimistic. He always looked for the best in people. He had an amazing memory for names and treated every person the same no matter their station in life. This lead to him having many wonderful friendships.
Starting in 1968 he supported the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan by serving on the board and leading many successful efforts to secure corporate donors.
His children and grandchildren will remember special times at Lake Shannon, family trips, holiday gatherings and great family times in Florida. He was an Eagle Scout and loved the outdoors. Fishing, hunting and skiing were hobbies he shared with his children and grandchildren.
Mr. McLernon is survived by his spouse of 17 years, Brigitte McLernon and his children Elizabeth McLernon (David Finkbeiner) Judith Smith (Kendall Smith) Nancy McLernon-Brown (Mike Brown) Jackie Bean (Jeff Bean) James McLernon (Tina Gomez McLernon) and his stepdaughter Monika McEvoy (Doug McEvoy)….. eleven grandchildren, three step grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
The family would like to express their gratitude to Dr. Ishmael Jaiyesimi and Dr. Michael P. Maddens who were so kind and attentive to their father. They would also like to thank the staff at Beaumont Hospital who worked with their father during this very challenging time of the Coronavirus. Sincere appreciation is also offered to Hospice of Michigan who assisted in getting him home for his final days and to Rev. Bill Danaher for providing spiritual support.
A celebration of his life will be held at a later date. Memorial contributions in Mr. McLernon's honor can be made to the charity of your choice
or The Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan, Christ Church Cranbrook, St. Marys Episcopal Church Stuart, Florida or Rose Hill Center Holly, Michigan.
Published by The Detroit News & Detroit Free Press from Mar. 31 to Apr. 5, 2020.