The portrait, heavy with rich oils and stretched across an ornate frame, exudes history. It hangs inside the front hallway at Pete McCoy’s home—a tribute to his father, James, the fourth dean of what is now the Max M. Fisher College of Business.

The story of how the portrait found its way to Pete’s home on Father’s Day 2012 is a good one. But before launching into it, Pete points out splotches of red paint and the four holes drilled into the corners of the thick frame. The paint was accidentally dripped during a long-ago renovation project, while the holes once held the screws that affixed the huge portrait to a wall inside Hagerty Hall, which is where the McCoys’ story begins.

A Scholar and a Leader

James McCoy (BSBA ’34; Masters of Accounting ’36) was appointed dean of the College of Commerce and Administration at Ohio State on July 1, 1959, after an illustrious career as a member of the accounting faculty. Prior to the appointment, he served as chairman of the accounting department and helped distinguish Ohio State as a leader in the field. During his time as a faculty member, the university flourished as the host of the annual Institute on Accounting Conference, which began in 1938 and was held through 1963. McCoy also helped establish the Accounting Hall of Fame at Ohio State in 1950.

As dean for 15 years, McCoy was instrumental in launching a tradition that continues today at Fisher—the Pace Setters Awards. The awards are the college’s top honors and are given to faculty and students who show high academic performance and demonstrated leadership.

James R. McCoy, 1966

James R. McCoy, 1966

As the son of a respected faculty member and influential dean, Pete McCoy grew up at Ohio State. He had tickets to football and basketball games, and his family's friends and his former teachers included iconic figures such as Woody Hayes and John Havlicek.

Pete’s career path as a certified public accountant was all but cemented when he enrolled at Ohio State in 1971. Knowing that his father planned to retire in 1974, Pete maxed out his course load, carried 25 credit hours for four straight quarters and set 1974 as his target graduation date. On August 30, 1974, he walked across the stage inside St. John Arena and became the first business student at Ohio State to receive his degree from his father and his dean.

“It was the hardest thing I had ever done,” Pete said of the heavy course load. “But Dad was proud when he handed me that diploma. You could read it in his eyes. It was really exciting. It was worth all the effort just to be able to do that.”

James McCoy retired a few months later and, at a celebration recognizing his service to Ohio State, university officials unveiled a portrait of McCoy. It was painted by renowned artist David Philip Wilson, whose other subjects included Lyndon Johnson, and Ohio governors James Rhodes, Michael DiSalle and John Gilligan.

For the next quarter century, James McCoy’s portrait hung in Hagerty Hall—and then it disappeared.

James R. McCoy (right) is presented with a portrait during his retirement celebration

James R. McCoy (right) is presented with a portrait during his retirement celebration in 1974. McCoy served as dean of the College of Commerce and Administration from 1959-1974. Courtesy: Pete McCoy

Finding the Portrait

The memory of the painting never left Pete’s mind. While touring the Fisher campus shortly after Fisher Hall opened in 1998, he noticed that portraits of the college’s former deans had been replaced with smaller photos.

“I made some phone calls over the years to see if anyone knew where the portrait was,” he said. “If it wasn’t going to be displayed, I wanted the college to know I was interested in buying it on behalf of our family. No one was ever quite sure what had happened to the portrait.”

Like his father, Sam McCoy (BSBA’11; MAcc ’12) grew up with scarlet and gray in his veins. He applied to just one college—Ohio State—and as a third generation McCoy, he followed his father and grandfather, who died in 1991, into accounting.

“Ohio State was the easiest decision I’ve ever made,” Sam said. “When you grow up with a family that’s as involved with Ohio State as ours was, there’s no other option. They encouraged me to consider other schools, but I didn’t care to. As for career advice, they both instilled in me that accounting is the language of business, and to be able to do anything in business, you had to have a firm understanding of it.”

Sam became curious as to the whereabouts of his grandfather’s portrait. He attempted to track it down during his freshman year, but potential leads fizzled. Five years later, during his final year at Fisher as a Master of Accounting student, Sam tried one last time to find the painting. An email to a professor kicked off a search that, a few days later, uncovered the painting in a Gerlach Hall closet.

The portrait had been removed during a renovation of Hagerty Hall and, when the College of Business moved to the Fisher College of Business campus in 1998, it was never unpacked and displayed.

“I got chills when I saw it,” said Sam, now a wealth planning analyst at UBS Wealth Management. “It was such a relief to finally track it down. I knew how much the painting meant to my dad and to my family. It was incredible that faculty and staff members, not to mention college leaders, helped me find it.”

Two months later on Father’s Day 2012, in front of family and friends, Sam unveiled the portrait to his father. It had been almost 40 years since Ohio State President Harold Enarson presented James McCoy with the portrait, and 15 years since any member of the McCoy family last saw it.

​ ​​ ​Sam McCoy (left) and his father, Pete, pose with a portrait of former dean James McCoy

Sam McCoy (left) and his father, Pete, pose with a portrait of former dean James McCoy.

“It was the greatest Father’s Day gift I’ve ever gotten,” Pete said. “I was in tears. It was like discovering a family heirloom. It really is something that connects generations of our family to Ohio State and the college of business.”

Said Sam: “Seeing the joy and excitement on his face is something I’ll never forget. It meant a lot to him and our family. His reaction to seeing the portrait really showed the love we have for Ohio State and how important the university and the business college have been to our family throughout the past 60 years.”