John B. McLaughlin, a Mecklenburg County boy who spent most of his life in Newell and made sure folks knew where it was, died Sunday at age 82. He lived a productive life as a citizen-servant, meeting the challenges of a nation at war, a region in racial turmoil and a state in need of new leadership.
He reveled in his rural Mecklenburg roots, spoke with a distinctively Southern tongue and used a wry sense of humor to make his points.
He served his church as deacon, elder and Sunday school teacher, led an Army machine gun squad in Korea, was postmaster at Newell for three decades and served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board during the desegregation era. Mr. McLaughlin was not a fan of busing to achieve desegregation, but he believed Mecklenburg was duty bound to comply with federal court orders requiring it.As a state legislator, Mr. McLaughlin's gutsy move in the 1989 General Assembly helped overthrow a stultifying leadership team and, with a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, put Josephus Mavretic in the speaker's chair. The new speaker rewarded Mr. McLaughlin – the only Mecklenburg Democrat to vote to overthrow longtime Speaker Liston Ramsey – with a key subcommittee on highway funding.
Mr. McLaughlin's good humor and keen ability to listen – no doubt honed during the years he ran a grocery store in Newell – gave him considerable insight into the human condition and informed his cheerful willingness to help others in a jam. He thoroughly enjoyed ordinary things that define the American experience – growing flowers and vegetables, splitting cordwood, reading books and following baseball.
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He was a tireless promoter of his county and its people and institutions. And he loved to straighten out folks who mentioned UNC Charlotte. It's really, he would say with a wink and a smile, the University of North Carolina at Newell.
When the Observer once mistakenly described him as a Charlotte Democrat, he wrote right back: “As a born and bred citizen of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, I am very proud of my heritage. I represent a number of precincts in the city and have a close relationship with many people there, some of whom are my relatives. But I am not from Charlotte, I am from Newell. Newell is not just a place, but a lifestyle or a state of mind that we are rapidly losing.”
John McLaughlin never forgot where he was from, the people he represented or why they trusted him to do the right thing for Newell – and North Carolina.