Pastor Dick Stark concluded the funeral of former Alexander City Mayor Don McClellan on Saturday with a prayer which, like the life of McClellan himself, reached far beyond the sanctuary of Faith Temple Church.
“There are people who will go to work today and punch a clock and get a check at the end of the week not realizing their job is because of the man who lies in this casket,” Stark said.
But as the three men who offered eulogies and those who quietly wept in the church could testify, McClellan, 74, left more than one legacy when he died June 25 after suffering a massive heart attack two days earlier.
McClellan was an everyman. He worked in a gas station, delivered milk, served as a police officer and owned a photography studio, capturing the happiest moments in the lives of others.
In his eight years as mayor he helped the city avert costly fines in a sewage dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency and helped set in motion the creation of the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance to allay the loss of thousands of Russell Corp. jobs. Following two terms as mayor from 1996-2004, McClellan’s work as the alliance’s executive director resulted in the creation of more than 3,400 jobs in 15 years.
Through it all he was honest, stubborn, tough and a font of Christian love.
“I heard somebody say we lost Don and I know what they meant,” former Alexander City police chief Lynn Royal said. “But we also know where he is and he’s not lost.”
McClellan knew his place and particularly enjoyed badgering Royal about the reversal of his role as a former police officer who became mayor.
“If I was there in the room, Don would tell people, ‘I used to work for him. Now he works for me.’ He never let me forget that,” Royal said. “Even after I retired and he left the mayor’s office, he would still tell me what to do.”
Royal stopped speaking to regain his composure several times while he remembered McClellan as a youth, an expert police marksman and a prayerful and devoted mayor.
“I got to know him as a teenager when he was working in a service station,” Royal said. “Then he was my milkman. That was back in the days when you had milk delivered in glass bottles and he would go from house to house.”
In 1976, McClellan went to work for Royal at the Alexander City Police Department and moved up from sergeant to lieutenant to the SWAT team.
“I told him, ‘I expect more out of you than anybody in this department’ and Don said, ‘That’s the way I want it,’” Royal said. “He was an expert marksman. If you went to the firing range and you wanted to be No. 1, you had to beat Don McClellan.”
Royal remembered a night some fellow officers tested McClellan’s toughness.
“We had training sessions and some officers were hanging around,” Royal said. “One night they told Don, ‘We’re going to put you in jail’ and he said, ‘Unh unh.’ Three of them jumped him and they went ’round and ’round and they never were able to put him in jail. I had to finally step in to keep somebody from getting hurt.”
Royal said McClellan served others despite a number of health problems in recent years.
“He was tough until the day he took his last breath on this earth,” Royal said.
McClellan was sustained by the power of prayer in his personal and public life.
“We would have prayer meetings in city hall the whole eight years he was mayor,” Royal said. “He was serious about that. Even when we would have department head meetings we would have prayer. He was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Fighting back tears, Royal remembered his years of comradeship with McClellan.
“It said that a man is blessed if he has a few good friends,” said Royal, who paused to stiffen his resolve as the memories stirred. “I had a real good friend named Don McClellan. We laughed together, we worked together, at times we cried together and we prayed together. Christians never see each other for the last time and I look forward to seeing Don again.
“There are some people in this world who are takers and some who are givers and Don was a giver. And he expected us to be givers too. I can’t think of anybody who had more friends and more people who loved him than Don.”
Alabama Municipal Electric Authority president and CEO Fred Clark spoke of McClellan’s desire to build consensus on every issue as mayor, executive director of the economic development alliance and as a member of the electric authority’s board.
“Alexander City more than any community in our state has faced challenges,” Clark said. “It has seen the collapse of Russell and lost jobs and the recession you went through. Don was a leader through all of that. Thousands of jobs came here mainly due to Don McClellan. Don was never out front. He was a humble servant on the back row working for consensus behind the scenes.
“Don taught me it was important to build consensus, that it’s important to talk to other people about their feelings on issues and what is important in their lives. Don was also stubborn and faced with an obstacle which might have prevented success he would bring everybody to a consensus. He was stubbornly determined to get that done and not always in a politically correct way. … Don left a legacy and we will always have him in our lives.”
Stark recalled with amusement trying to talk McClellan’s wife Linda out of marrying him in 1965 and then becoming their pastor. They were married 54 years.
“I was finishing my freshman year at Benjamin Russell High School and I was in the study hall in the little auditorium,” Stark said. “We were seated alphabetically and Linda was to my left. I didn’t really pay a whole lot of attention to her for most of the year but toward the middle of the spring semester she started bringing a calendar to study hall. It was a wedding calendar and she would talk each day about different things about weddings. I felt it was my duty to tell her I could see she was about to make a big mistake. I asked who this guy was she was marrying and she said very proudly, ‘Donald Franklin McClellan.’ I can still hear her saying it. I asked what he did and she said he worked at a gas station. I said, ‘You’re marrying a gas station jockey? How’s he going to support you?’ and she said, ‘We will manage.’ I said, ‘Linda, you should not marry him … he’s never going to amount to anything.’ Today, we know what he amounted to.”
Stark said despite the success McClellan enjoyed as the LMAEDA’s executive director, he would get dejected when he couldn’t convince a business to come to the area.
“When you become a point man like that, you’ve got a target on your back,” Stark said. “When things are going well people don’t say much of anything but when they go bad they look for someone to blame. There were times when he came to church I could see the discouragement on his face. … But after Don served the will of God, he went to sleep.”