Like many teenagers who grew up in the ‘50s, Neal McCaleb had a summer job, but his was a little bit different than most. He spent his summers working with highway engineers.
“My dad was with the highway department for all of his adult career,” recalls McCaleb. “So I was raised around the concept of public service, and he involved me in what he was doing. He took me on what the engineers called plan hands, when they took the preliminary plans into the field and tried to verify them. So I got to run around with him and the other highway engineers, and I grew to appreciate what they were doing. I started my career in highways at the age of 16 when I went to work for a small bridge contractor.”
Those early experiences led McCaleb to return each summer to work with the highway department, and ultimately, to Oklahoma A&M College, where he graduated in 1957 with a civil engineering degree. The year before, the interstate highway system had been approved by Congress. Some college grads may not know exactly what they want to do after graduation; for McCaleb, the choice couldn’t have been any clearer.
“I went right to work consulting with the same firm, working on the development of the designs and construction plans for the interstate. I did that for two years and then had an opportunity to go to work for the City of Oklahoma City in the engineering department, which involved more personal contact with users.”
The personal contact McCaleb enjoyed from his time there would become a hallmark for the work ahead of him. After two years with the City of Oklahoma City, McCaleb left to start a private consulting firm and ultimately a side business developing and building residential subdivisions in the area. But the idea of public service was always on his mind.
“I’ve always had an appetite for public service,” McCaleb says. “I served in the legislature; I was elected in 1974, began service in 1975 and served eight years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, half that time as the Republican floor leader.”
McCaleb returned to public service in 1987, serving as Oklahoma’s first Secretary of Transportation under Gov. Henry Bellmon, a position he would fill again in 1995 under Gov. Frank Keating. He left that position in 2001 when President George W. Bush appointed him as Assistant Secretary of the Interior. After leaving government service in 2003, McCaleb became a special advisor to Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, ultimately assuming the position of Ambassador at Large for the Chickasaw Nation, following the death of Ambassador Charles Blackwell earlier this year.
“The role is just really beginning to develop,” McCaleb says, “I’m still doing a lot of the same things I did before. I’m in contact with various government agencies, including the Department of Transportation, and on the federal level as well.”
McCaleb serves as Chairman of the Board of Chickasaw Nation Industries, while also serving as a board member of Chickasaw’s wholly owned bank, Bank 2.
“I’ve enjoyed my service everywhere I’ve been,” McCaleb says, “And there’s always more to be done.”