Huntsville technology pioneer Lonnie McMillian dies at 90

Lonnie McMillian, a pioneering Huntsville entrepreneur who co-founded a major electronics company and a genetic research institute, died on Dec. 30, the institute said. He was 90 years old.

McMillian co-founded Adtran, one of the city’s most successful technology companies, in the 1980s and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in the early 2000′s. The success of both brought him praise as one of modern Huntsville’s creators.

Along with Mark C. Smith and John Jurenko, McMillian co-founded Adtran in 1985. The telecommunications company grew rapidly as a supplier of equipment to regional Bell companies after they were spun off by AT&T, and it is now a publicly traded supplier of networking and communications equipment whose signature buildings and campus are at the heart of Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park.

After retiring from Adtran, McMillian and Hudson conceived and founded HudsonAlpha to bring genetic researchers, entrepreneurs and educators together to accelerate progress in the field. McMillian was the “Alpha” in HudsonAlpha’s name. The institute opened in 2008 and now anchors a campus that includes more than 30 companies and multiple laboratories and classrooms.

“Lonnie was so deeply humble that not many people have a true scope of how much he gave to the world,” Hudson said in a statement. “The institute is only one example, and I feel blessed for the opportunity to have worked on it with him. He will be dearly missed.”

“He was an innovator,” HudsonAlpha President Dr. Rick Myers said. “Lonnie was a visionary and a gift to all of us that knew him — and many more who were impacted by his generosity without ever realizing it. We have our work cut out for us to live up to his legacy.”

“It is hard to begin the New Year without the visionary Lonnie S. McMillian Jr., one of Huntsville’s greatest business leaders and philanthropists,” Mayor Tommy Battle said. “Intelligent, curious, and passionate, Lonnie was a rare serial entrepreneur. His ideas and new methodologies led to the creation of some of Huntsville’s most successful companies and foundations, where innovations continue to set new heights in technology and life sciences.

“We will greatly miss this generous man and we will remember his many contributions to Huntsville and the world,” Battle said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the McMillian family.”