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Thomas E. McLester, 1911-2012

A gentleman and mentor

Posted: May 3, 2012 5:55 p.m.
Updated: May 4, 2012 5:00 a.m.
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Thomas E. "Daddy Mac" McLester

Awards were bestowed upon him. A scholarship was established in his honor. The very mention of the name “Daddy Mac” brought smiles and memories to those who knew him.

Thomas E. “Daddy Mac” McLester, a longtime and well-loved educator and coach at Jackson and Camden high schools, died Tuesday at the age of 100.

He left behind a legacy of service to young people and devotion to his church and community that is familiar to many.

“Daddy Mac was bigger than himself, and he gave to the community generously. He made a difference in the lives of thousands, and at the end of the day what more can be said of a man," said S.C. Sen. Vincent Sheheen. "He was kind, energetic, passionate, caring, and principled. Daddy Mac lived not just for himself, but for others."

McLester was loved and admired by all, said S.C. Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk, also pointing to his role as mentor to young people.

“An important part of his legacy will be his desire that all young people have an opportunity to receive an education so that their future will be as bright as possible and so that they will be able to give back to the community that supported them,” said Funderburk. “With an optimistic and generous nature, Mr. McLester always searched for ways to help his community. His indomitable spirit will forever inspire those whose lives he touched.”

When Camden First United Methodist Church created the Thomas E. McLester Scholarship Fund, Dr. Jasper Salmond, a former member of McLester’s high school basketball team, recalled the profound influence the coach and teacher had on him and innumerable other students.

“His impact on me was subtle and effective. Coach Mac was an outstanding dresser, and that’s something that I picked up from him and carried all the way to Benedict College with me … and that’s how I caught the eye of my wife,” said Salmond, who himself went on to become an educator and later served on the Richland County School District One Board of Trustees.

McLester’s mentoring continued off the court and out of the classroom. He selected a group of Jackson High young men to accompany him every summer between 1947 and 1974 to work at the Ocean House, a resort hotel in Rhode Island. While he worked as the bell captain, McLester taught the teens life lessons that would prove valuable in their lives while also offering them an opportunity to earn money to help pay their way through college.

McLester, said the Rev. Ellis White Jr., pastor of Camden First United Methodist Church, was one of a kind.

“He was very unselfish with his gifts and with who he was. If you were going to be his friend, he held you to a high standard, but not a standard he didn’t abide by himself,” said White. “He was a compassionate man … a spiritual man.”

 One of the things unique about him, White said, was that McLester remained relevant even to the age of 100 because of the many lives and students he touched who are still around.

“They were the fuel of life for him. He remained relevant to the very end, even though many of his peers were gone, because of them,” White said. “We are going to miss him tremendously. He was a very stabilizing, foundational force of this church.”

Charles Gary, with Gary Realty Co. Inc. of Columbia, was one of the young men who accompanied McLester to Rhode Island each summer. That experience, he said, made him the man he is today.

“He believed in teaching young men how to live and be men. He always stressed to us the importance of presentation … how to present ourselves in public, how to handle ourselves, how to talk with people,” Gary said of McLester.

He instilled in his crew of young men the “three Ps,” Gary said: “Pride … take pride in whatever you do; purpose … whatever you do, do with purpose; and do it with a passion, even if you don’t like what you’re doing.”

Gary, who regularly visited with McLester on Sundays as his health failed, said the young men under McLester’s guidance formed a bond for life.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Thomas E. McLester Scholarship Fund, Camden First United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 606, Camden SC 29021.

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