Friends remember Charles McConnell's love for children, basketball

By Peggy Manning | Feb 03, 2013

Friends and colleagues of Charles Candler McConnell Jr. remember him as a man who loved basketball and children. McConnell died Jan. 31 at his home in Webster.

“Charlie was watching a ballgame,” said long-time friend Robert Cathey. ”He never did anything quiet in his life, but it appears as if he died quietly in his sleep,” Cathey said.

Cathey, former chairman of the Haywood County Board of Education, said he was responsible for recruiting McConnell as superintendent for the school system.

“Mac Sherrill and I went down to Rock Hill, South Carolina, where he was the associate superintendent,” Cathey said. “We drove around and found a school so we could talk to people who worked with Charlie. We waved a man down who was mowing to ask if he knew him. He did and so we asked what he thought about him. He promptly replied that Charles McConnell was a good man.”

After an extensive background check and reviews of the 40 or more other applicants, the position was offered to McConnell. But, to Cathey’s surprise, McConnell turned down the offer. McConnell had his wife call back a short time later to see if it was too late to accept the job. Cathey polled school board members and they agreed to extend the offer.

McConnell served as Haywood County Schools Superintendent from 1981 until 1991, when he returned to Jackson County to be superintendent there until his retirement in 1997.

During his three terms as Haywood County Schools Superintendent, McConnell was responsible for piloting the Career Ladder, lead teacher and site-based management programs for the school system.

Edie Burnette, a former journalism and graphic arts teacher at Pisgah High in Canton, said McConnell was very supportive of teachers.

“He looked after everybody and was always willing to listen. He definitely was responsible for incorporating better conditions for teachers, including obtaining the county supplement pay,” Burnette said.

Close friend Jim Stevens, who served as associate superintendent with McConnell, said McConnell’s tenure could well be remembered as one of the most productive periods of the Haywood County school system.

Two new football stadiums were built at Pisgah and Tuscola high schools and lighting was provided for the athletic fields at Pisgah, Bethel and Waynesville Junior High. Jonathan Valley and Meadowbrook elementary schools were completed, with Meadowbrook being the county’s first and only year-round school.

“Everybody enjoyed working for Charlie,” Stevens said. “He treated everyone with dignity and respect. If you couldn’t get along with Charlie, you couldn’t work for anybody,” he said.

Stevens said McConnell was a man who always had to be doing something, whether it was volunteering with programs such as Meals on Wheels, doing things for his church, active in the Rotary Club or working around the house in his garden or with carpentry projects. McConnell was awarded the Governor's Medallion Award for Volunteer Service in 2012.

The two often cut firewood together and went to ballgames.

“We talked every day and went everywhere together. I’m going to miss that, especially our weekly trips to Granny’s Kitchen in Cherokee to eat.”

Cathey said McConnell will also be remembered for his own basketball skills.

“I always introduced Charlie as the man who fed the ball to Henry Logan,” Cathey said, noting that when McConnell played basketball for Western Carolina University, he was the second highest scorer. McConnell was named to the Jackson County Athletic Hall of Fame.

Charles McConnell was born Dec. 23, 1.943, in Cullowhee, the eldest son of the late Charles McConnell Sr. and Lena Pressley McConnell. He graduated from Cullowhee High School in 1962 and Western Carolina University in 1966, earning master’s degrees from Western Carolina University and Winthrop College. He received a Doctorate in Education degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Ruth Morgan McConnell; two sons, Greg and Jeff; a daughter, Kristy McConnell Bullock; six grandchildren; and a brother, Gene McConnell of Cullowhee.