William T. McLaughlin (1917-2008) served as mayor of Wilmington, Delaware between 1977 and 1984, and is remembered for his good nature, his humility, and his generosity. Bill McLaughlin led an extraordinary life, filled with exceptional acts of public service and a strong sense of loyalty to the State of Delaware.
During World War II, Bill flew 50 combat missions in the South Pacific as a tail gunner and radioman. After the war, Bill went to night school under the G.I. Bill and spent his career with the DuPont Company. He spent 58 years married to Mary McLaughlin (1915-2004), with whom he raised two sons. His political career began in 1964, when he was elected to the city council in an upset victory. After serving as a strong advocate for progressive causes on the council, he was elected as mayor in 1976, and served the city from 1977-1984.
The McLaughlin years were prosperous ones for both the city of Wilmington and the State of Delaware. Together with Governor Pete duPont, Bill helped to enact the Financial Center Development Act which brought Delaware to the forefront of the banking industry. Mayor McLaughlin worked tirelessly to protect jobs, attract new employers, and grow the local economy, playing a significant role in the revival of downtown areas. In 1978, the Port of Wilmington Maritime Society (POWMS) was formed in response to a request from Mayor McLaughlin to establish an independent base of community support for development at the Port.
During McLaughlin’s time as mayor, a growing appreciation for the arts in Wilmington solidified in the form of various projects, including The Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts (DCCA) finding a home in an old Water Department building on E. 16th Street, while the Delaware Theater Company found a permanent home in a new 300-seat theater along the Christina River. In addition to a commitment to Wilmington’s commercial and cultural well-being, Bill was also very committed to the youth of the city and region, specifically to the integration of and access to education.
“Not only was the economy successful during Bill McLaughlin’s time,” remarked Kevin McGonegal in a recent article for Town Square, “but crime rates declined, city and water systems were improved, and low-income families had increased access to housing. While a tireless worker for the city of Wilmington, the mayor should also be remembered for his sense of humor. One St. Patrick’s Day, Mayor McLaughlin made his way down King Street in a green leprechaun costume.”
The legacy of Bill and Mary McLaughlin’s vision for the youth of the city persists today through the continued efforts of the Dream Chasers program.