Could you have been among the thousands who were academically influenced by Ralston Lattimore “R.L.” McDonald during your younger years in the Wayne County school system? Well, if you ever set your body down at a desk in one of the following institutions of learning, there is a good possibility that Mr. Mac could have been the captain guiding your educational ship: Seven Springs, Rosewood, Grantham or New Hope. I’ll give you the facts as to when he was at each, and you can say yea or nay as to whether you came under his watch.

If you were a student at Seven Springs High for the nine-year-stretch 1930-39, he was either your teacher or your principal. He was at the helm all those years when the Seven Springs girls’ basketball teams were running roughshod over the competition.

Now, I do not know whether he had any influence in their success or just “happened” to be there during their unprecedented run. But if one follows his career, it seems that for the most part his schools produced teams to be proud of. He had a keen interest in sports going all the way to the days when he graduated from Duke University in 1929.

He left Seven Springs at the end of 1939 and assumed the principalship at Rosewood for the 1940-41 season and was there through all of World War II. If you were in the first through 11th grades during those years, he was the captain guiding your ship. If you graduated before 1957, he was likely your principal at one time. However, like so many, you may be one of those who can’t even remember who taught you in the first grade.

During the summer months of those war years, he worked as a security guard at Seymour Johnson Field, a role in which he was likely comfortable. When he was 18 he joined the N.C. National Guard, rising to the rank of sergeant in the field artillery. He had a brother who served during the war. Unfortunately, Mr. Mac could not. As a youngster he lost an eye from a splintered baseball bat.

He “retired” from Rosewood after 1944-45 to accept work in the office of R.S. Proctor, Wayne superintendent. He became bookkeeper and was in charge of textbooks and rental for the county school system. But when Mr. J.A. Kiser retired as principal of Grantham in the fall of 1946, to accept a professorship of mathematics at State College, Mr. McDonald was appointed as his replacement.

It is uncertain why he decided to leave the “main” office and return to the rigors facing him as principal of the largest school in the county. In Mr. Mac’s day, a principal was everybody’s principal, first grade through graduation. They also faced the grind of recruiting teachers and coaches as well as being head of the “student corrections department.” Which I must say was a somewhat easier task back then for, as a rule, students were far more self-disciplined.

In those days, if a bit of reasonable punishment were meted out, it generally almost always was with parental consent. Sometimes Ma or Pa would follow up with more. Today a principal, teacher or even a parent runs the risk of winding up in a court of law.

However, if I were speculating on why Mr. Mac chose Grantham, I would say that his wife, the former Arah Lee Keen, had somewhat of a say in the matter. After all, she had grown up 2 miles from the school. Her parents and six siblings remained within 2 miles of the campus.

Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if she didn’t have a desire to get that handsome young son of hers, Robert, where he would be closer to Grandma and Grandpa Keen. After all, he was her only child and had lived his first four or five years way over yonder in Seven Springs. He was born in 1936.

So, you folks in the Grantham community, if you were at the school from the beginning of 1946 through graduation in 1955, he was head man in your principal’s office. I was among that ‘55 group and was privileged to graduate with Mr. Mac’s son, Robert.

Unfortunately, neither Seven Springs nor Rosewood schools ever published a yearbook while Mr. Mac was there. Seven Springs published its first in 1948 when James O. Waters was principal. As a matter of interest, senior mascots were little Kaye Dawson and Kivett Ivey Jr.

I don’t know when Rosewood published its first yearbook, but there was none before 1958 when my wife graduated. Thus, about the only record of Mr. Mac’s movements for those years is what I’ve been able to recover from News-Argus microfilm and four volumes of Grantham High School yearbooks and three from New Hope. Robert has also contributed significant events of his father’s history.

In the fall of 1956, Mr. McDonald and the New Hope high school principal, Talton Jones, switched positions. I don’t think Mr. Jones, who lived to be 100 years old, was hard to convince to make the move to Grantham. Similar to Mr. Mac’s wife, his lady Eloise Stevens Jones was going back “home.”

New Hope would be Mr. McDonald’s last assignment as principal in Wayne County, serving the years 1957, ’58 and ’59. Apparently he was well received just as he had been during his tenures at Seven Springs, Rosewood and Grantham. The following caption was written beneath the photograph showing him at his office desk.

“To one who deserves the honor, we, the Beta Club, wish to dedicate the 1959 Nuhosca.

“It is but a humble effort to show our appreciation for his hard work and leadership from which we at New Hope have profited so much.”

Of interest, the mascots for that year were little Miss Carrie Lancaster and Dennis Morse.

History shows that Mr. Mac was not a stranger to the Beta Club. Shortly after he was appointed as Grantham’s principal, a news brief showed up in the local newspaper. “According to R.L. McDonald, plans were made on Tuesday last week at the Grantham High School for establishing a local chapter of the National Beta Club, a service-leadership organization for high school students of America.”

Whether or not that was the first club in the county I cannot say. Nevertheless, I shore didn’t waste my time trying to be “indoctrinated” into that organization, but my classmate and good friend Robert McDonald did! However, there were only 15 young’uns total out of the whole school who were tapped, and only three of the 15 were boys. Besides Robert, it was the future Dr. Roy Weaver and James (Jimmy) Cox, later to become president of Cox-Edwards Construction.

I trust there will be no reader backlash from my being somewhat lighthearted, when, in fact my intent has been to extoll the virtues of a man well-deserving, Mr. Ralston Lattimore McDonald. But seriously, many local and world leaders have come forth from that Beta Club organization. And I’d bet there’s not one in a thousand of you who know of its beginnings. No, it didn’t come from up north’s Harvard, Princeton or Yale. So here’s a snippet of education for you:

“Beta’s mission originated with Dr. John W. Harris, a professor at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, who founded the organization in 1934. Over 85 years have passed, but his vision and Beta’s mission has remained the same. And most everyone who has been fortunate enough to be called a member has embraced those ideals and applied them to their own lives.”

Perhaps one of the more heartfelt tributes was paid Mr. McDonald by the Grantham High Class of 1954: “It is rare to find in public schools a person who combines good organization, justice, knowledge, and true friendliness into one character. Just such a principal do we have in ‘Mr. Mac,’ as he is most often called.

“Because of his willingness to attend our ball games, parties and other social functions, he is liked and respected by students, teachers, and people of the community. We proudly dedicate this 1954 Grannawayne to ‘Mr. Mac.’ ”

Next to his Duke University graduating photograph were penned these words: “Man himself is the crowning wonder of creation; the study of his nature the noblest study the world affords.”

He died of heart disease in July 1969 at age 63. His hobbies were reading, fishing, and following Duke football and basketball.

Listen to me now, you be sure to tune in next week. I’m going to create a story about three folks that you’d probably never tie together. I will say that one of the three is Robert, son of Mr. Mac. And you know doggone well that boy would have got right smart of a daddy-whupping if he had not made that Beta Club.

Whereas I don’t thank no amount of whupping could have scared me into joining up with that bunch of brainiacs!

Sherwood Williford writes a weekly column for the News-Argus. Contact him at 919-440-8811, or P.O. Box 175, Princeton, NC 27569.