Former Mayor McClain dies, revered as one of city's most progressive leaders
Wednesday, February 15, 2017 6:02 PM
Former Philadelphia Mayor Charles A. “Charlie” McClain, who during his two terms was regarded as one of the city’s most progressives mayors because, among other things, he ushered in comprehensive zoning, died Monday. He was 80.
Mayor Charles McClain, center, with Chief Phillip Martin and Iron Eyes Cody at the 1982 Choctaw Indian Fair.
Services were to be held Thursday at 11 a.m. from the chapel of McClain-Hays Funeral Home, which he co-owned before retiring. Burial will be in Cedarlawn Cemetery.
Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at McClain-Hays.
Mayor McClain served as mayor from 1981 to 1989, which at the time was a part-time position.
Under his leadership and that of the now late and then former Mayor Allen King, the city of Philadelphia in 1981 co-signed with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to borrow $2.6 million and build a greetings card factory at a time no one would loan the Tribe money.
As the Tribe began to prosper, the now late Choctaw Indian Chief Phillip Martin, at nearly every public event such as a casino or factory opening, would acknowledge that helping hand from the city of Philadelphia.
Mayor McClain had been elected Ward 1 alderman in June 1980, serving the remaining term left vacant by the resignation of Pete Mundy after he accepted a position with the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
Mayor McClain was a native and longtime resident of Philadelphia.
He was a retired co-owner of McClain-Hays Funeral Service. He was a lifelong member of First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia where he served as an elder.
Philadelphia Businessman Steve Wilkerson was an aldermen during Mayor McClain’s tenure and recalled many of his accomplishments.
Under Mayor McClain’s leadership, Wilkerson said the Board of Aldermen accomplished many things, including comprehensive rezoning, a second and new main fire station near Northside Park and the addition of “Jaws of Life” rescue equipment for the fire department.
They also remodeled the board room at City Hall to be more dignified and professional.
Wilkerson recalled the Mayor and Board of Aldermen spending many hours at city hall working on rezoning.
“It was so much more work than we ever thought about it being,” Wilkerson said. “At that point you could have built a chicken house right next to a restaurant or right next to someone’s house. There were no restrictions.”
He said rezoning wasn’t popular with all the residents, but noted that Mayor McClain was a “mediator type of mayor” who could work through any issue.
“He would work behind the scenes to make sure things went smoothly,” Wilkerson said.
Zoning was new at that time to Philadelphia, he said, and some people didn’t like that the board could deny such things as a request for a mobile home to be placed in a back yard.
Mayor McClain considered it progress and pushed to make it work, Wilkerson said.
Another accomplishment the city made under Mayor McClain’s leadership was the alleviation of downtown parking meters, which also sparked criticism from some, Wilkerson said.
“We started marking the tires and went to a $2 fine,” he said. “You would have thought we had called some people names!”
Wilkerson, who owns Steve’s on the Square, said he and Mayor McClain had a good working relationship over the eight years.
“He always called me ‘Square’ in his slow-talking voice,” he said.
Current Mayor James A. Young said Mayor McClain helped lay the foundation for where Philadelphia is today.
“He was ‘Mr. Philadelphia’ back in that time,” Young said. “He was Mayor McClain. He had that air about him.”
Young said he spoke with the former mayor many times over the past years and often sought advice.
He said Mayor McClain, as mayor, ran the city from a business perspective.
“After I became mayor and even when I was supervisor, he was always around,” Young said. “It is very important that you get some input every now and then from somebody with his type of experience. He was pretty honest with me.”
He said Mayor McClain’s actions and thoughts let him know that “he was still concerned at a distance about the city and was watching. He had a broad spectrum of view about what was going on in Philadelphia.”
Stanley Dearman, retired editor and publisher of The Neshoba Democrat, remembered Mayor McClain as a very kind, friendly, easy going gentleman.
“He was somebody who practiced the Golden Rule,” Dearman said. “He was a good mayor. He was even tempered in weighing both sides of issues which came before the city while he was mayor.”
Mayor McClain was one of the most well-liked people, Dearman said, he has ever known.
“He had a lot of friends,” he said. “I never heard him speak ill of anyone. If he couldn’t say something good about somebody he was inclined not to say anything.”
Mayor McClain was a graduate of Philadelphia High School and Mississippi State University, where friends said he remained a true fan of all sports.
“Charlie was one of the best Dawgs who ever came out of Mississippi State,” said longtime friend Caroline Dearman.
Mayor McClain was an honorary member of the Philadelphia Rotary Club.
Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Rebecca B. McClain; son, Charles A. "Chuck" McClain Jr.; two grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; and two sisters, Ann Hossley and Jackie Franklin.
The family requests memorials be to First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, 533 Main St., Palmer Home for Children at P. O. Box 746 Columbus, MS 39703 or a favorite charity.
Pallbearers were: Stanley Salter, Don Kilgore, Jeff Seward, Scott Lewis, Rich Miller, Dan Cumberland, Jim Prince and Kip Herrington.