CORKY MCMILLIN, A LEADING figure in Southern California's home building, development, and business circles for more than four decades, died Sept. 22 in San Diego at the age of 76. The cause of death was heart failure.

McMillin and his wife, the former Vonnie Leininger, founded The Corky McMillin Cos. in 1960 and grew the enterprise into the industry's 48th-largest home builder and one of its largest privately owned companies. Their sons, Mark and Scott, oversee the National City, Calif.–based builder's daily operations, but McMillin remained engaged in the business right up until his death.

“Corky will be remembered as a decent person, a good businessman, generous, and a visionary who truly loved seeing homes built,” says Ken Baumgartner, president of Corky McMillin Cos. and a 26-year veteran of the firm.

McMillin was born Macey L. McMillin Jr. in Missouri in 1929. His family moved to Chula Vista, Calif., when he was 14. McMillin, through his company, was instrumental in helping to build that city, which named an elementary school after him in 2000. He was inducted into the California Building Industry's Hall of Fame in 1988 and the San Diego chapter's hall six years later. The Urban Land Institute presented him with its lifetime achievement award in 1998.

McMillin placed considerable importance on corporate stewardship and philanthropy. Throughout his life, he also pursued his passion for off-road auto racing. McMillin won the grueling Baja 500 and Baja 1000 and was racing only weeks before his death when, during an event in Las Vegas on Sept. 10, he complained of feeling ill and had to be airlifted to a local hospital.

“Corky lived the life a lot of us would like to live,” recalls Mick Pattinson, president of Barratt American, a competitor in San Diego County. “He was a guy who kicked the dirt, literally, and the kind of person the industry could hold up to the community as an example.” McMillin is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter, and eight grandchildren.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Diego, CA, Los Angeles, CA.