Dialogue of democracy

07/12/2008 11:10 PM

07/12/2008 11:18 PM

Some years ago I gave the eulogy at the funeral of a favorite uncle. As I looked out at the congregation, I recall, I realized that, at 88, he had outlived the people who would have remembered what he had meant to his community.

My uncle had been a stalwart of the Rotary Club, a big shot in the Chamber of Commerce and a pillar of his church, but those accomplishments were belied by the sparse attendance that day. I surmised that his peers either had passed away themselves or were too infirm to attend.

Mac McCallum was 88 when he died July 2, but the pews for his memorial service at St. John's United Methodist Church in Fort Mill were filled. Many others had come for the visitation the preceding evening.

Despite the growth of recent years, Fort Mill remains a small town in many ways, and you can't have lived there for long without knowing about Mac McCallum.

Some of the attendees were of Mac's generation, but most were younger by a generation or more.

Lifelong educator

Mac had been a teacher or school administrator most of his life, so the turnout for his funeral was a tribute to a man who had helped shaped the lives of so many in Fort Mill. For his former students and their parents, he embodied the best of public education.

Some of those who filled the pews of St. John's never took a class with Mac McCallum but themselves were teachers or former teachers who owed much of their success to him.

Chuck Epps, assistant superintendent for Fort Mill schools, told a reporter he never forgot a lesson Mac McCallum taught him the day he showed up late for his new teaching job at Fort Mill Junior High School.

"We can't have this," was all his mentor needed to say. Epps got the message: Student needs are paramount, and no teacher who took his responsibilities casually would succeed in a school run by Harold McCrae McCallum.

Like many, I considered myself one of Mr. Mac's students, even though he had long been out of the classroom by the time we moved to York County in 1987.

I didn't spend a lot of time with him, but the occasions I did were memorable. Typically, it would be at a social in Fort Mill or perhaps a cultural event at Winthrop University or the Center for the Arts in Rock Hill. More often than not, Mac would call me at The Herald to discuss that day's editorial or the way we had handled a story.

Sometimes, he would congratulate me for what he felt had been a job well done. Just as likely, he would share his displeasure with a stance the editorial board had taken or the slant on a subject of particular interest to him. Usually, the topic involved education; the importance of discipline was a recurring theme, I recall.

As we spoke, I could imagine Mac teaching his "Ag boys" or counseling young teachers about ways to handle problem students. His tone was always even, his voice gently modulated, but his focus was laser-like. He had a point -- or several -- to make, and the conversation wasn't over until he had.

Community conscience

One thing they don't teach in journalism school is that no newspaper can succeed unless the men and women who run it understand the conscience of the community they serve.

Mac McCallum was among those special individuals who, for me, embodied the community conscience.

I didn't always agree with him -- and wasn't shy about telling him so. Nevertheless, he was one of those rare individuals who cared less whether you agreed with his views than in the importance of your hearing them expressed.

Because of our conversations, no doubt, I was a better editor and The Herald a better newspaper. I like to think of our chats as the dialogue of democracy.

A World War II veteran, Mac died two days before Independence Day.

For me and for many others, he will always help define what it means to be an American citizen.

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