If you knew him and if you’d loved him and if you’d watched him for any length of time, you’d have quickly been convinced that John R. McCloud would live forever.
Ninety years alive, most all of them lived well, a lifetime spent mentoring elementary school children and teachers, his golden years devoted to his church and friends and family. Mr. McCloud passed away Dec. 21. Ninety years, and it doesn’t seem like enough.
McCloud, the pioneering first principal at Brickey Elementary School (now named Brickey-McCloud Elementary, which should tell ya something), left a mark on three generations of students, from the first bell in 1962 until retirement in the early 1990s.
You lived for the moments when he’d pop his head into the classroom. He’d tell stories, usually about his infamous paddle, kid the teacher, maybe do “The Twist.”
John R. was a character in the best sense of the word. He was a skilled and willing raconteur, recalling his early teaching days at Mascot – the outhouse, the small schoolhouse, the kids. He always talked about the kids.
But sometimes the story involved him. Quietly extinguishing the little fires that principals find. One of the terrific tales happened the day McCloud knocked on Brickey teacher Linda Glass’s classroom door. In his hands was a package.
“This came for you earlier today,” he said.
Glass glanced that the box, puzzled, then broke into a grin.
“Mr. McCloud, you may want to take this back to the office.”
It was supplies and stuff for the school and was marked: “Glass. Handle with care.”
McCloud loved wife Joyce, the longtime librarian at Powell High School, who passed away 15 years ago. And he doted on daughter Melanie, who entered the family business and is a longtime Knox County teacher.
His loved ones worried about him a little after Joyce died, but John R. kept going. He said as late as this past June that he’d been blessed with good health most of his life.
You could often find him down at Christ United Methodist Church. He would be painting a wall, or changing light bulbs, whatever was needed.
And he sat center stage whenever the Brickey Buddies – retired teachers from the old school – got together for lunch. Stories and smiles were always on the menu.
Some days, he might tell you about growing up down near Athens, talk about his sister, and, always, share and swap stories about school.
How poignant that he died at Christmas. He loved the holiday.
Even after Joyce died, McCloud decorated his condo into a winter wonderland, invited old friends and teachers and students over for food and fellowship and fun. He’d dress up like a clown for Christ Church’s annual autumn Halloween festival. Sometimes he’d sing Tom Jones tunes for the church seniors. And he’d eat lunch with church buddies, usually at Bel Air Grill, swapping stories, holding court.
Former students remember a mentor. As do former teachers, who described those years in the old brick Brickey building, torn down in 2003, as the happiest of their lives.
“We were a little family up there by ourselves,” longtime first-grade teacher Alma Williams said once.
A family it was, indeed. And, now, the patriarch has passed.
Even legends don’t live forever. But the memories are magic, and they remain.
(Editor’s Note: This tribute to John R. McCloud was adapted from several articles previously written by our former colleague Jake Mabe.)