When Corpus Christi native Joe McComb ’70 arrived at SFA in 1966, it was his first time in Nacogdoches. “I thought Corpus Christi was hot, but I hadn’t realized the wind didn’t make it through those pine trees.”

Now mayor of Corpus Christi, McComb looks back on his days at SFA and credits his time in Nacogdoches with reinforcing his commitment to a life of service to others.

“SFA instilled in me, especially through my involvement with the Baptist Student Ministry, to look for opportunities to help others,” he recalled. “I participated in mission trips and other activities that helped me realize the importance of doing things for other people, not so much for myself.”

After earning his business degree, McComb returned to his hometown to work in the business his father had established in 1940.

“My father died when I was in fourth grade,” he said. “My mom was a school teacher, and she literally walked out of the classroom and into the moving business the day my dad died. So, I always assumed I would help her with the family business after college.”

McComb served on the Corpus Christi City Council for eight years and on the Nueces County Commission for 12 years. In May 2017, his extensive political experience and strong community ties led to his election as mayor.

“I like helping people and finding solutions to problems,” he said. “I knew we weren’t ever going to get rid of government, so I might as well try to be part of it.”

One of his most significant accomplishments — Operation Paintbrush — is directly related to his desire to help others.

“We had access to millions of dollars in funding through community development block grants,” McComb said. “The theory was that if we fixed up the neighborhoods, improved the streets, and added new curbs and sidewalks, then the people would work on improving their houses. But in reality, if people are struggling just to buy food for their families and pay their medical bills or their car payments, they aren’t going to divert their funds to home improvement projects.”

To bridge this gap, in 1985 McComb began to plan a project to paint homes in the city for needy individuals who were unable to complete this work without assistance.

“The first problem was that I didn’t have money for paint,” McComb explained. “So, I went to the different paint stores and asked if they had any leftover paint or returned paint that they might contribute. A few weeks later, the Sears manager called me back and said that their store in Dallas had received a shipment of 1,150 one-gallon cans of paint that were the wrong color, and they didn’t want it. The only problem was, we had to get it here. I told him, ‘That won’t be a problem — I’m in the trucking business.’”

With a valiant response from local civic clubs, like Rotary and Kiwanis, as well as Corpus Christi’s Army Depot, the group surpassed its goal of painting 100 homes of low-income, elderly and/or disabled residents that weekend.

“People really responded,” McComb recalled. “Grocery stores donated soda and water. Whataburger donated coupons for free hamburgers. At the end of the day, we all met at the park, and one of the local barbecue places cooked for everyone.”

By the time the next spring rolled around and the event was nothing more than a fond memory for McComb, he began receiving phone calls from individuals and entities inquiring about a repeat project.

“I thought we were done,” he said. “I really hadn’t planned on making it an annual event, but there wasn’t any reason not to. We wound up doing it for 20 years and painted more than 1,800 homes in the Coastal Bend at no cost to the homeowners or taxpayers. It made an impact on all of us — homeowners and volunteers alike.”

Despite his good deeds, life dealt McComb and his family an excruciating blow in 2015 when the house in Wimberley where his son’s family was spending Memorial Day weekend was swept away during a flash flood of the Blanco River. Laura, McComb’s daughter-in-law, and his grandchildren — 6-year-old Andrew and 4-year-old Leighton — perished.

“The river rose 45 feet in two hours. It was basically a wall of water that swept the house into the river,” McComb said. “The house crashed into a bridge downstream and broke apart.”

McComb’s son Jonathan escaped the river six miles past the bridge, climbing an embankment despite a broken sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung.

McComb said his memories of the days following the tragedy are blurred, but he credits his lifetime of faith with surviving the heartbreak. “You can’t survive something like that without faith,” he said. “Trusting in God doesn’t mean you are exempt from tragedy, but I don’t know how people pick up the pieces and move forward without it.”

Those memories were with McComb when, as mayor of the city, he was called upon to make decisions regarding a mandatory evacuation of Corpus Christi before Hurricane Harvey. While McComb encouraged individuals in low-lying, flood-prone areas to evacuate, he stopped short of issuing a mandatory evacuation.

“My primary responsibility is to keep people safe, and that’s one I take seriously,” he said. “I know how devastating it is to lose someone in a flood. But when storms approach, police and emergency workers shouldn’t be distracted trying to goad residents who refuse to leave low-lying locations. You also have to take into consideration the dangers that people will face on traffic-jammed interstates, especially in bad weather situations. It can be a real tug between your heart and your head; there just are no easy answers.”

Easy answers aren’t expected when it comes to leading a city that, in the past several years, has become the nation’s leading oil exporter. In December 2015, the federal government lifted a 40-year ban on the export of American-produced crude oil. Geographically situated to accept the substantial amounts of oil being produced in the Eagle Ford shale and Permian Basin, the Port of Corpus Christi was able to directly benefit from the lifting of this ban.

“The city meets government regulations for air quality, and because of the port’s infrastructure, it was able to accept the increased ship tanker traffic required to get the oil products to overseas markets,” McComb said.

The Port of Corpus Christi is now the No. 1 export port in the country, handling more than 61 percent of all the oil exported from the U.S. To accommodate the larger ships that will come into the port’s inner harbor, the iconic Harbor Bridge is being replaced with the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Americas at an estimated cost of more than $950 million.

“As a native of Corpus Christi, I have heard folks say for years that ‘one of these days’ Corpus Christi is going to experience growth like never before,” McComb said. “I believe we are now living in ‘these days,’ and I couldn’t be happier seeing and being a part of it.”