If you ask Mac Healy’s friends what they consider his most memorable characteristic, without hesitation, they all point to his work ethic. He’s the kind of businessman who wants to be the first person on the job every day.
“I go to work at about 1:30 in the morning, every morning. I unlock the doors. That’s who I am and what I like to do,” says Healy, who owns Healy Wholesale Beer and Wine Distributorship on Distribution Drive, just off Murchison Road.
“We have 150 families in our business. We try to provide a good working environment for them the best we can: paid sick leave, hospitalization — all the things my father instilled in the business and continues today,” Healy says.
John Mac Healy — just “Mac” to his friends — is among this year’s winners of CityView’s Downtown Visionaries awards, recognizing those who had the foresight to help lead revitalization of downtown Fayetteville. Other recipients of the third annual awards are Molly Arnold, the owner of Rude Awakening coffee house and a leader in the Downtown Alliance, and Bruce Daws, the longtime city historian and historic properties manager.
The awards will be presented at a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. June 22 in the Aevex Veterans Club at Segra Stadium.
Mary Holmes considers Healy the catalyst behind Fayetteville’s downtown turnaround. Holmes, the executive director of the Cumberland Community Foundation, has worked with Healy numerous times on community projects.
“When I first volunteered with him, it was in 1990 or ’92. … We served together on a committee called ‘A Complete Fayetteville: Once & for All.’
“It was when there were no restaurants or coffee shops or movie theaters or nonprofit organizations or law offices downtown. There were boarded-up offices, boarded-up buildings, and Mac persistently led the effort to transform our downtown into what it is today,” Holmes says.
“Over the past 33 years, people may have forgotten when eating at Antonella’s (restaurant) or watching a movie at Cameo (movie theater) or doing something fun downtown. A lot of it is because of the leadership of Mac Healy.”
Healy remembers those days. He served on the board of Fayetteville Partnership, one of the early civic revitalization groups.
“We started a project called Fayetteville: Once & for All,” he recalls. “It was when downtown was completely boarded up and nobody wanted a part of it. We put together a group of people, and we asked ourselves the question, ‘What could we do downtown?’
“The goal was a one-day seminar on what we wanted to see happen in our downtown. They didn’t talk about money or other issues, only what the group wanted to eventually see downtown.
“I probably had to call about 200 people to get the 40 people to show up. The seminar went well, and people were loving the idea that someone was paying attention to downtown. We came up with a plan for “A Complete Fayetteville: Once & for All.’”
The result was a comprehensive and ambitious roadmap for downtown that became known as the Marvin Plan. Nationally known consultant Robert Marvin, guiding a 40-member committee chaired by Healy, envisioned residences — which were few in the city center at the time — as well as an amphitheater, performing arts center, visual arts center, children’s museum and more.
A centerpiece of the project was a place called The Mound, which would feature a 40-foot waterfall as well as restaurants and shops.
“I learned we had a long way to go with downtown,” Healy says of the planning meetings. “There were a lot of people who said, ‘Tear it down.’ Some suggested we turn it into a Bourbon Street. There also were a number of people who grew up in Fayetteville and remembered what it had been: department stores, the banks, and everything. And it was a time across the country when downtowns were beginning to come back and mall areas were beginning to suffer.”
“We got a nucleus of enough people who said, ‘Let’s do it; let’s move ahead.’ We thought up radical projects, and we came up with an initial plan to come up with a big project and redo the area where Festival Park is now, the site of the former USO building,” according to Healy.
Healy’s work ethic comes with many valuable attributes, his friends say. They tout his leadership style, business acumen, and his optimistic and persistent doggedness when pursuing a project.
Healy was a member of the Cumberland Community Foundation board from July 1, 2003, through June 30, 2015, the maximum term, according to Holmes.
“When he joined our board of directors, the foundation had $22 million in assets. When he left our board of directors, we had $72 million in assets. The foundation grew $50 million in assets while he was on the board. That’s almost more than triple the growth in foundation assets. That’s important because our grant-making grew accordingly,” Holmes says.
“He’s a smart businessman. On a board of directors, he’s an asset for his financial knowledge, his marketing knowledge, his employee management knowledge, his network in the community, and his sense of humor,” she says.
Currently, Healy co-chairs the board of the proposed N.C. Civil War, Emancipation and Reconstruction History Center. Planning for the $81 million center began in 2006, and a ribbon-cutting was held last year on the grounds of the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex, where the history center would be built.
The plan has encountered some opposition by residents who fear it may glorify the Confederacy.
“Sometimes, things take a long time to get accomplished,” says Mary Lynn Bryan, a philanthropist who co-chairs the history center board.
Healy is one who will “stick with it,” she adds.
“We’re fortunate to have that kind of leadership. He does what he says he will do,” Bryan says.
Healy often appears at civic functions to speak passionately about the economic boon the history center would bring to the community. He has made numerous presentations before local governing boards, too, asking sometimes fickle politicians for the money they earlier promised if the foundation raised money on its own. Which it has done.
The history center, Healy says, will draw 120,000 people annually who will eat at local restaurants and go to local baseball games.
“Additionally, it will create 200 jobs, bring in $2 billion a year in tourism dollars, and become a magnet for people coming to Fayetteville where they can see the city’s transformation,” Healy adds. “Fayetteville has a great, long history, and we just don’t show it very well.”
Burr and beer
Richard Burr, who represented North Carolina in the U.S. Senate from 2005 to 2023, says Healy often lobbied for his community. Burr and Healy met at Wake Forest University. Healy was an athletic trainer who taped Burr’s ankles at 4 a.m. on practice days. They were underclassmen, which is why they were given the 4 a.m. time slot, Burr said.
They have remained friends. Did they ever discuss or debate politics during Burr’s tenure in the Senate?
“I would have loved to talk politics with him, but mostly he talked politics with me. He was very opinionated about what we should do. It usually involved doing something for Fayetteville or the military,” Burr says.
Along with his “uncanny work ethic,” Burr says, Healy also has a great empathy toward others. He recalls Healy offering a helping hand to a popular retired Wake Forest trainer.
“Mac hired him at his distributorship, and he worked there until he passed,” Burr says.
Oddly, Healy says he had no intention of coming to or remaining in Fayetteville after graduating from college. The Healy family hails from the Flint, Michigan, area, but Mac Healy grew up mostly in Greensboro before heading to Winston-Salem and Wake Forest University.
When the beer distributorship came open in Fayetteville, his father jumped at the opportunity.
“My father (Fritz) bought the business in 1978, and he wanted something to pass on to his kids.” Healy says.
“Fayetteville in 1980 was a little bit of a cultural shock coming from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. But I adored the town, loved the people. That’s the thing Fayetteville gets underestimated on: the quality of the people and the friendliness of the people,” he says.
Healy says there is no secret to becoming involved in your community.
“You pick civic organizations based on what you enjoy working on or if you see a project that will improve the community. Do a good job and the word gets out. Then another one may call you and ask you to become involved.”
When he first came to town, Healy says, he became involved in the more standard programs: chamber of commerce, economic development, and the arts.
“You pick a project that you think will have a more dramatic impact on the community,” he says.
His first venture in community service was with the Arts Council, then under the directorship of Carol Weaver.
“She taught me an awful lot about volunteering,” Healy says. “Once you live here, you realize how great Fayetteville is. It’s a matter of getting people past its reputation.”
He says people are amazed at Fayetteville’s transition, especially those in the military community who have not been here for several decades.
“’Fayettenam’ was a point in time. We’ve moved way past that. What I tell people is just come visit.”