Family, colleagues remember Dubuque man’s ambition, kindness

Services for Tim McNamara

Visitation for Tim McNamara will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. today at Egelhof, Siegert & Casper Funeral Home, 2659 John F. Kennedy Road, where there will be a wake service at 8 p.m. A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, at St. Raphael’s Cathedral, followed by burial at Mount Calvary Cemetery.

Grace Hogan never thought she would bike from Dubuque to Galena, Ill., but she is glad her father, Tim McNamara, convinced her to try.

“I never thought I would ride my bike that far in my entire life,” Hogan said. “I’m glad we did it because now biking is something I very much enjoy.”

Her father was always thrusting her into new adventures, whether it be skiing in Colorado or sailing off the coast of Palm Beach. Adventure was a large part of who McNamara was. He was always seeking the next thrill that life could offer him, the next challenge he could overcome.

It was an ambition he embodied in all elements of his life. That same drive gave him the motivation to run his own company for 30 years and to use that company to envision the complete revitalization of Dubuque’s Millwork District. It drove him to follow his love for the arts and continually support the local art scene in the Dubuque community, and he was able to do all of these things with a tumor growing on his cervical spinal cord, which first left him with limited function and eventually drove him to spend his days in a wheelchair. Even then, he was never deterred to continue his work.

On Nov. 4, McNamara died at the age of 69 at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, and while the Dubuque native may be gone, his friends and family believe his legacy will continue on for many years to come.

“Smart people think of all the things that will happen when things go wrong, but bold people think of all the good things that will happen when things go right,” said John Gronen, president of Gronen in Dubuque and co-developer with McNamara in the development of the Millwork District. “Tim was a bold person. He was always thinking about how things would look when they went right.”

McNamara was born in 1951 in Dubuque, the middle child of three children to William and Irma McNamara.

Ellen Carnahan, Tim’s older sister, said her brother was the most adventurous of the family at an early age, often getting himself hurt when trying new stunts in the neighborhood.

“He was always the one who broke bones and pushed the envelope,” Carnahan said. “I remember him trying to pole vault over the clothes line.”

McNamara would graduate from Wahlert High School and go on to attend Loras College. In 1972, Tim, then 21, was told by a doctor that he had a tumor growing on his spine, which quickly left him partially paralyzed.

“My parents insisted he go through radiation treatment, and that eventually worked and shrunk the tumor,” Carnahan said. “He regained about 90% of control back into his arms.”

With his body back and a renewed appreciation for life, McNamara spent the next three decades embarking on numerous physical adventures, learning to ski, sail, mountain bike and rock climb.

He would also go on to establish himself in the local business community. In 1991, he took over as president of Wilmac Property Corporation, a position he would hold until his death.

While working for the company, McNamara quickly developed a vision for the yet undeveloped Millwork District, then a collection of mostly vacant warehouses and manufacturing buildings.

“The community started to look at the Millwork District in 2008 or 2009, but he was down there many years before that,” Gronen said. “He really believed there was a future for it.”

In 2004, McNamara and Gene Tully founded Voices from the Warehouse District, a massive art event held in the warehouse building currently occupied by Dupaco Community Credit Union. The project pushed forward two goals for McNamara: promoting the arts in the community, for which he held a deep passion, and promoting the potential of the Millwork District.

“Voices from the Warehouse District really kicked off the new community interest in the Millwork District,” Tully said. “People were seeing the possibilities of these spaces that were being used by artists.”

Tim would continue to devote his time to growing the Millwork District. He worked with Gronen to develop the Caradco Building into downtown housing and commercial space. In 2010, he was part of the 2010 campaign to develop a future vision for the Millwork District.

He also continued to devote his time to local arts, supporting the Voices project and helping to found Dubuque … And All That Jazz!

Meanwhile, McNamara’s tumor had returned in 2001, which had begun to again congest around his spine and slowly strip him of control over his body.

However, members of McNamara’s family said Tim never allowed his disability to hinder him. He still pressed forward with his ambitions in life and carried out his vision for the city he called home.

“He was the strongest person I have ever known,” said Davida McNamara, Tim’s wife. “He loved life.”