Tom McDaniel is one of Oklahoma City’s most recognized civic leaders, who serves on numerous boards and commissions. He is president of the American Fidelity Foundation and chair of the MAPS 3 Citizen Advisory Board that has overseen the construction timeline and $777 million budget of nine capital improvements projects in Oklahoma City. He is also one of the humblest men you will ever meet.
His resume is filled with titles of leadership and accomplishments—yet he attributes
some of his life changing events to the opportunity to go the Northwestern.
McDaniel grew up in small towns in Oklahoma and graduated from Coalgate High School. Even though his family strongly wanted him to get a college degree, the cost was out of reach.
“My parents grew up in the depression and neither had the chance to go to college. Coming from a family of modest means, they wanted a better life for me than they had,” McDaniel explained.
McDaniel was offered football scholarships to several colleges, but ultimately chose Northwestern for financial and family reasons. Without a car and with a full scholarship, McDaniel could attend college and visit his parents living nearby in Helena.
The university, like all of the regional universities, has a rich history of inspiring and supporting others. That really resonated with me and as result, led me to look for ways to give back and improve my community.
McDaniel graduated from Northwestern with a degree in business and later earned a law degree from the University of Oklahoma. He was in private practice in Alva before he was appointed the administrative director of state courts in 1981. McDaniel joined Kerr-McGee in 1984, ultimately becoming vice chairman of the company and a member of its board of directors.
In 2000 McDaniel became president of Northwestern, the first alumni to hold the position. In 2001 he was elected president of Oklahoma City University, where he doubled the university’s endowment and net assets over the next decade. He is in the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame and received Leadership Oklahoma’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
McDaniel attributes his legacy to first having the chance to go to college. “Getting a full scholarship gave me the opportunity to go to college,” he explained. “I got into law school because I had a college degree. I started working at Kerr McGee and was considered for the position of university president because of my law degree.”
He met his wife of 58 years and counting as an undergraduate. Brenda is a teacher with a master’s degree from Northwestern. They have three sons.
Even his community involvement is attributed to his alma mater. “There was a real effort at Northwestern to instill in us a sense of giving back,” he recalled. “The university, like all of the regional universities, has a rich history of inspiring and supporting others. That really resonated with me and as result, led me to look for ways to give back and improve my community.”