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Class  of  1954
Larry  Thomas   McGehee

Obituary

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Henry County native son McGehee dies

Larry McGehee

Henry County native son, college administrator, teacher and writer Larry Thomas McGehee, 72, died Saturday at his residence in Spartanburg, S.C.

His wife, Elizabeth Boden McGehee, survives.

The body was to be cremated, with plans for a memorial service to be announced.

McGehee was born May 18, 1936, in Paris, the son of the late George Eugene McGehee and Margaret Thomas McGehee.

After being educated in Paris public schools, McGehee earned his bachelor’s degree from Transylvania University in Kentucky in 1958. He received his bachelor of divinity, master’s and doctoral degrees from Yale University in 1963, 1964 and 1969, respectively.

He began his career in education as director and assistant vice president of university relations at the University of Alabama in 1966. Two years later he became executive assistant to the president at the university and finally was executive vice president there.

In 1971, he was named chancellor at the University of Tennessee at Martin, where he served for eight years, before resigning to become special assistant to the president at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

In 1982, he left UT Knoxville and became vice president of planning, marketing and evaluation at Wofford College in Spartanburg. He retired as vice president and professor of religion at Wofford.

McGehee was an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a member of Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Beta Kappa and Kappa Alpha Order.

McGehee’s column “Southern Seen,” was published in more than 100 newspapers, including The Post-Intelligencer.

In addition to his wife, he leaves two daughters, Elizabeth Hathhorn McGehee of Baltimore and Margaret Thomas McGehee and husband Daniel Paul Parson of Clinton, S.C.

The family has requested memorials be made to the Elizabeth B. and Larry T. McGehee Endowed Scholarship Fund at Wofford College, 429 North Church St., Spartanburg 29303; to the library fund at Transylvania University; or the library at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

J.H. Floyd Mortuary in Spartanburg is in charge of arrangements.

An online guest register is available at www.floydmortuary.com.

 

EDITORIAL

 

Larry McGehee: A man of words

He pushed his students to enjoy learning
Published: Monday, October 27, 2008 1:14 PM CDT
Larry McGehee, who died Saturday, had a love affair with words.

He loved to play with them, roll them around in his mind to see how they came out. Alliteration and plays on words were as natural to him as opening the cover of a well-loved book.

His weekly column, “Southern Seen,” celebrating the connection between books and the culture of the region that produced him, appeared in some 100 to 200 newspapers including this one in his home town.

He sent it free of charge to all of them to fill what he saw as “an absence of opinion columns about learning, the arts and humanities, and books that ought to be read.”

McGehee was easily one of the best-educated and most prominent sons Henry County ever produced. He held eight college degrees, including the Ph.D. from both Yale and Transylvania universities, and was an ordained minister.

He retired as professor of religion and vice president of the prestigious Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., after previously serving as executive vice president of the University of Alabama, chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin and special assistant to the president of the University of Tennessee.

Through it all, he maintained his hometown allegiance. His column frequently made reference to his years growing up in Henry County.

He was a beloved teacher for 53 years, recognized after retirement by 74 former students who contributed $50,000 to Wofford for the Elizabeth Boden and Larry Thomas McGehee Endowed Scholarship Fund. Almost no one knows his wife as Elizabeth; she is “Betsy” to all and “the Queen Mother” to students.

As a teacher, he took the soft touch, as he explained: “I am a convener and a moderator, teaching by indirection or by sideline comments or by making good use of talented visitors and succinct readings, pushing them to enjoy learning in a different way, a non-threatening way, that they just might elect to keep doing when they have graduated from college altogether.”

Discussing the unique requirements for writing Western fiction, for example, a guest lecturer told students one day, “If you’re going to write a whole story about cowboys swinging cavalry sabers, you probably want to swing one first.” The next day, McGehee brought a real Civil War saber to class and had every student heft it.

Tying together his career and his avocations was a passion for words. Probably his most famous speech — published almost in its entirety by Time magazine — came in 1972, shortly after he had taken up residence in the chancellor’s home at UT Martin.

He returned to the University of Alabama to give the commencement address, aptly titled “A Few Words.”

It was 250 words long, far shorter than this editorial. He chose six words — rage, reason, reading, laughter, lingering and love (there’s that alliteration) — and devoted an average of 35 words to each. Here are excerpts:

• Rage — “Age and education give you the authority, citizenship the responsibility, to rage against the mediocrity and injustice in your society, more especially in yourself.”

• Reading — “Develop a thirst for printer’s ink and quench it by reading, for from books flows the fountain of youth found by few.”

• Laughter — “He who cannot laugh at himself appears ridiculous.”

• Love — “Love is the most unnatural human emotion; although we have learned to transplant the human heart, we have not learned to transform it. Commit an unnatural act: Love one another.”

 

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Obituary and Editorial
Reprinted from  THE  PARIS  POST-INTELLIGENCER
Paris, Tennessee
October 27, 2008  Edition ~ Used by Permission

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