James McIlrath

December 2011
Written By: 
Sara Sobota
Photographs by: 
Bobby Altman

His volunteer work is making a difference for several Grand Strand organizations




Feeling worn out, like there’s not enough time in the day? Having a hard time squeezing in that volunteer commitment? It’s probably time to rub shoulders with James McIlrath. If Myrtle Beach offered a course on civic engagement, he would be the perfect teacher.

McIlrath, CPA and partner at Duncan, Farmer, Munden, McIlrath and Cobb, PA, in Myrtle Beach, has a resume of volunteer work, complete with leadership positions and accolades, longer than a month’s worth of to-do lists. Literally dozens of Myrtle Beach organizations have benefitted from McIlrath’s time, energy and commitment to making a difference in others’ lives: The Grand Strand Miracle League, Myrtle Beach Civitan Club, Horry County Special Olympics, Boy Scouts of America and Scout Troop 850 only head the list.

His philosophy is simple: “Nothing happens until someone cares.”

Originally from Pittsburgh, McIlrath moved to the Myrtle Beach area nearly 25 years ago when he married his wife, Karen, who was stationed at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The couple’s lives might have been typical as they raised a family and pursued their respective careers, except for one key distinction: McIlrath was an Eagle Scout.

“From a very early age, a commitment to helping others has always been there,” McIlrath says. “I had a scout master who did a lot for me when I was growing up. He taught me about being a person of value in the community and making a difference. You come out of Eagle Scouts realizing you have an obligation to help others, just as you have been given that opportunity.”

McIlrath has fulfilled that obligation about 100 times over, yet his energy never fades. Over the past dozen years, he’s has been named The Sun News Volunteer of the Year and South Carolina Special Olympics Adult Volunteer of the Year. He’s also won the South Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants Public Service Award and the Santee Lodge’s Bernie Moore Legacy Award.

Tory Mackey, director of the Grand Strand Miracle League, considers McIlrath an anchor in the volunteer community not only for his generous attention and energy, but also his willingness to take on whatever needs to be done. “He would do anything—there’s no task that’s too little or too big,” Mackey notes.

The focus on community has been a central factor in the McIlrath family dynamic. When James was involved in building the Waccamaw Youth Center more than a decade ago, his daughter, Heather, just five or six at the time, was right there with him: “She was doing what she could, picking nails up off the floor where the building was going up,” McIlrath notes. Heather is now a junior at Anderson College, while CJ, also an Eagle Scout, is a freshman at Anderson. Ian, a Life Scout who is working toward his Eagle Scout status, is a sophomore at Carolina Forest High School, while James’ wife, Karen, is a member of the Horry County School Board.

While McIlrath is the poster child for civic engagement, he stresses the innate simplicity of volunteering: “It doesn’t matter what you do, but if you do something, it’s going to make a difference. We can all write checks, but sometimes it’s more important to give of our time. It doesn’t have to be a tremendous sacrifice to make a difference in someone’s life.”    

CPA and partner at Duncan, Farmer, Munden, McIlrath and Cobb, PA
Age: 48
Community involvement: Grand Strand Miracle League, South Carolina and Horry County Special Olympics, National Eagle Scout Association, Order of the Arrow (Scouting’s Honor Society), Boy Scouts of America, Myrtle Beach Civitan Club, Civitan International, Waccamaw Youth Center, United Way of Horry County, Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association, Leadership Grand Strand Alumni Association, Myrtle Beach Area Professionals
Proudest accomplishment: Three great kids