Several speakers choked up at times Saturday while reminiscing about former Johnson County Commissioner R.C. McFall.
They and others were on hand in Cleburne for the official renaming ceremony of the Johnson County Emergency Services No. 1 facility to the R.C. McFall Complex, the ceremony playing out beneath the sign newly hung over the entrance of the complex’s main building. The day marked a first as well, the inaugural appreciation day for county firefighters and their families.
“After every [JCESD] meeting R.C. would go up to the firefighters and tell them he appreciates what they do,” JCESD Executive Director Tom Foster said. “So we thought this would coincide well to honor our firefighters, first responders and their families on the same day we dedicated this complex to R.C. McFall.”
The hope is that the firefighter and family appreciation day becomes an annual event.
“Individual fire departments have held appreciation days but as far as I know the ESD never has,” Foster said. “I can’t take credit though. This was the brainchild of [JCESD Commissioner] Wes Shipley. When we started budget last year he said we need to do something for our firefighters and families.”
McFall, who passed away in October at the age of 73, served on the rural fire district board, as a county commissioner and, after that, as a commissioner on JCESD’s board among other posts and accomplishments he achieved through life.
“We brought the idea [of renaming the complex] to our board in September when R.C. was sick and it passed,” Foster said. “We got the sign for the building and so he got to see it before he passed.”
McFall was the last Democrat to hold county office. Fittingly, former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, also a Democrat, was among the speakers Saturday.
“We’re smiling and shedding some tears thinking about R.C. today,” Edwards said. “What a guy. He did it and his heart was in it. And I think it’s only right that we’re also honoring firefighters and their families on the same day we’re honoring a man who loved them so much and did so much for them.”
On a humorous note, a helicopter landed a few hundred yards away several minutes into Edwards’ speech the noise drowning everything else out.
“R.C. and I were never known to give short speeches,” Edwards joked. “I’ve seen a lot of people go to trouble to keep mine short but Tommy, bringing a helicopter in to land is the most creative approach I’ve seen yet.”
Edwards called McFall one of the most dedicated and decent public servants he’s ever known as well as one of the smartest.
“When he started putting on that country boy deal of his he could turn Chet, a one-syllable word, into a three-syllable word,” Edwards said. “He called me in Washington one time and said, ‘Chet, you know I’m just a good old country boy.’ I said, ‘Commissioner, every time you say that I hold onto my wallet and my shirt because I know your about to put us to work. Don’t give me that good old boy, you’re one of the sharpest guys I’ve ever known in my life.’”
That particular call concerned the then yet-to-be built and in jeopardy Chisholm Trail Parkway.
“The things Mac did for this county will be benefitting families for years to come,” Edwards said. “But because he was such a humble person it was never about him. Which is why a lot of people don’t know the many things R.C. played a key role in bringing about from Hamm Creek Park to the toll road to the support he gave firefighters and so much more.
“The toll road for Mac wasn’t just about economic development. For him it meant families being able to have more time together instead of the breadwinner who might be working in Fort Worth and living in Johnson County sitting stuck in traffic on Texas 174 everyday.”
Accomplishments are one thing, Edwards said, character is another.
“I loved R.C. McFall and the reason I admired him was not so much because of his accomplishments but because of the values he had that led him to public service,” Edwards said. “The common bond in everything he did I finally realized was family. He loved his own family deeply. But his love didn’t stop with them. He just loved people.”
Edwards switched the mood to lighthearted once again turning to his wife and quipping, “We’ve got 25 more years to go babe,” in noting that McFall and his wife, Elaine McFall, were married 51 years.
Edwards, on a more serious note, commented on McFall’s faith.
“He didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve but every single day he lived out Christ’s commandment of love thy neighbor as thyself and put his faith into good works.”
Edwards concluded by reading thoughts penned by Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Mark Reinhardt and McFall’s daughter, Lori Wilson.
“He was like a brother to me and I miss him everyday,” Reinhardt said. “If R.C. said something to you it was gospel truth. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor he would help you try to solve your problem. He cared about people. Law enforcement and firefighters loved him. With him it was never about R.C., it was about helping people.”
Wilson remembered her father as a man with a God given talent for working with people and a man who was put on earth to serve.
“He was a good man, deeply dedicated to his family,” Wilson said. “Our family was never pushed aside. Even when he was busy we always knew he would be there if we needed anything.”
Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon remembered McFall as a good friend and man of rare integrity.
“Politician isn’t always a very popular word,” Harmon said. “But I never thought of Mac as a politician. I always looked at him as a true servant.”
Harmon appointed McFall to the JCESD board after McFall’s time on the county commissioners court.
“He did an outstanding job,” Harmon said. “He truly loved and respected firefighters and was very instrumental in every good thing that’s happened at this ESD.”
County Commissioner Rick Bailey, McFall’s successor, joked that most politicians are forgotten six months after they leave office.
“And yet here are all these people today 11 years after Mac left the commissioners court to celebrate R.C.,” Bailey said. “Everybody told me when I took office I had big shoes to fill. I’m still trying folks.”
Commissioner Larry Woolley credited McFall’s support of 4-H, FFA and county youth.
“I remember him at 4-H banquets,” Woolley said. “My daughters loved him and he loved them. Mac was a special person in their hearts because of his support. And I remember when every conversation we had ended we’d shake hands and he’d say, “Larry, if there’s ever anything I can do for you let me know.’ That’s the kind of person R.C. was.”
Cleburne Assistant Fire Chief Keith Scarbrough spoke of McFall’s role in helping establish JCESD 27 years ago and his support of it in the years since.
“That wasn’t an easy accomplishment but R.C. was a facilitator,” Scarbrough said. “He had the gift of bringing people together. He also wasn’t a person to shy away from anything, especially when he knew it was for the good of the community.”
Through the ESD training and operation methods have markedly improved for all county fire departments and in turn increased public safety, Scarbrough said.
Scarbrough thanked McFall for making him a better firefighter and for supporting firefighters and first responders in general.
“One thing I’ve learned is we all need to invest in our community by volunteering in some fashion,” Scarbrough said. “You don’t have to become a volunteer firefighter but you need to be a volunteer.”
Briaroaks Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bryan Jamison likewise spoke of McFall’s contributions to JCESD.
“He had the gift of getting people together to do something bigger from the parts,” Jamison said. “Putting people together to make something bigger and to make people realize they work better together than separated. “Mac was the example to follow and I can’t think of a better tribute than naming this facility after him.”
JCESD Commissioner Darren Yancy remembered McFall as a visionary with a talent toward bringing people together and especially for his, “rapier sharp slow delivery wit that cracks you up every time.”
Several speakers commented on the firefighters and their families as well pointing out that the volunteer firefighters often climb out of bed at 3 a.m. to respond to a call only to turn around and go to their regular job after.
“I don’t know if people realize there are 17 [fire departments associated with JCESD] and all these men and women put their lives on the line everyday for very little,” Foster said.
Elaine McFall said Saturday’s turnout and the love and admiration shown to McFall touched her and her family.
“He always wanted to help people,” Elaine McFall said. “That was his main deal and we all miss him.”