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Remembering Jim McMahan

I first met Jim in early 2011—he and I were both attending a community meeting at the home of a Sagamore Hills resident.  The topic was arguably the most controversial in public education: redistricting.  I was struck by Jim’s ability to handle such a contentious issue with grace, humor, and charm.  (Who else can do that?!?) Fortunately, my path crossed Jim’s again when both our oldest daughters started at Henderson Middle School.  Again, school-related meetings were the activity of choice for both of us, but we managed to blend enough business and personal to become friends.  Little did we know that our life paths would dovetail for years to come.

Jim went on to the Board of Education and I went on to work in public education advocacy.  We developed a deep trust which allowed us to respectfully share ideas and solutions.  We felt safe telling each other, “That may not be practical in my sphere—here’s why,” or “That could definitely work—how should we approach it strategically?”  Although our discussions usually started with (what we thought were incredibly important!) education dilemmas, we always made time to talk family. Though I didn’t see them nearly as often as I saw Jim, I knew all about his wife and daughters.  His three “girls” were the light of his life—his love for them was palpable. My guess is that anyone who heard Jim talk about his family witnessed that lilt in his voice and the words, “You know, family first.”  

In 2017, I told Jim I was considering running for office, but I didn’t know which office.  We discussed the Board of Education, but I told him I wouldn’t run against him in 2018 so it might be a 2022 campaign.  He told me he wanted to talk to his family, then discuss it with me again.  The next time we met, he told me it was time for him to roll off the Board and spend time with his “girls.” He said his wife was quite enthusiastic to get “Jimmy Mac” back from DeKalb Schools (little did she know he would continue school advocacy after retiring from the Board!).  Not only did Jim say he would support me in running for the Board of Education, he outlined his vision of sustainable leadership which included his continued assistance if/when I was elected.  Thankfully, his vision became reality.  He intentionally guided me every step of the way. 


When we last texted, he was at the lake with his family.  I told him I hadn’t been as available for our regular discussions because I’d been spending time in Oklahoma with my father, who had been hospitalized.  Not only did he completely understand my situation, he encouraged me to go make new memories with my dad.  As usual, he offered his number one recommendation: family first.  


I’m taking his advice.  


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