Engineer. Born in Mullins on November 8, 1899, McMillan was the son of Malcolm L. McMillan and Mary Alice Keith. He earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of South Carolina in 1922. On January 27, 1923, he joined the South Carolina Highway Department. He married Mary King on December 5, 1923, and they had three children.
Over the years the Highway Department promoted the able engineer and administrator from junior engineer to district engineer, and in January 1941 he was named state highway engineer. As state engineer, McMillan advocated the change from concrete-to bituminous-surfaced highways.
On July 17, 1947, the State Highway Commission dismissed J. Stanley Williamson and named McMillan chief highway commissioner effective July 18. This appointment climaxed months of rivalry between McMillan and his predecessor. A court challenge ensued, and the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the Highway Commission could not dismiss a chief commissioner during his elected term “without due cause.” Williamson returned with reduced responsibilities, but McMillan held the actual power with the title of “executive secretary.” Williamson resigned in September 1948.
McMillan’s tenure as chief highway commissioner was one of unparalleled growth. He created a division to oversee license examinations and the Highway Patrol; survived a struggle with Governor Strom Thurmond over converting the patrol into a state police organization; and created a public affairs office. In 1950 he successfully lobbied for a one-cent increase in the state gas tax to fund construction and maintenance of South Carolina’s burgeoning highway system. In January 1952 he had signs erected at South Carolina’s borders that read “Welcome to South Carolina. See the Best State on the Best Roads.”
In addition, McMillan worked to convince the General Assembly that work on a statewide highway system was never complete and that paving farm-to-market (secondary) roads led to increased highway fatalities. To McMillan, the key to safe roadways was the construction of controlled-access highways with frontage roads.
On February 16, 1956, his pioneering vision became a reality when the South Carolina General Assembly approved construction of limited-access highways with adjacent frontage roads. Four months later the U.S. Congress authorized $32.5 billion for road construction and launched the era of the interstate highway.
Active in his profession, McMillan was president of the South Carolina Society of Engineers and of the prestigious American Association of State Highway Officials. In 1957 Clemson University honored him with an honorary doctor of engineering degree.
The pinnacle of McMillan’s fourteen-year career was when the U.S. Congress authorized $98 million over three years for South Carolina’s interstates. To McMillan, the interstate system was “the greatest public works construction program the world has ever known.” He awarded South Carolina’s first interstate contract in 1956. After a long illness, McMillan died in Columbia on February 12, 1961, and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
Moore, John Hammond. The South Carolina Highway Department, 1917–1987. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.