William Earl McElrath, Jr., of 81 Little Fox Lane in Fletcher, passed away on Wednesday, June 14th, 2017, at the John F. Keever Solace Center. He was born in Asheville on January 10, 1934, to the late William Earl and Nettie Compton McElrath. He had five siblings whom he loved dearly: Edward McElrath, Anne Casey, and Barbara Warren who predeceased him, and Howard McElrath and Judi Hobson.
Bill, or "Big Mac," as he was affectionately called by his family and friends, moved to New Hampshire during his early years, where he excelled in basketball, baseball, and skiing. He even played the trumpet in the New Hampshire State high school orchestra. After moving back to North Carolina in 1949, he attended Woodfin High School where he was named the NC Beta Club President his senior year and was selected to play on the Optimist Bowl football team in 1951. He graduated from Woodfin High in 1952.
Bill received an athletic and academic scholarship to Western Carolina University. He was highly involved in WCU student government and was elected president of his junior and senior classes. He lettered in football all four years, earning first team all state honors as a tackle and was chosen co-captain during his senior year. He graduated from Western in 1956 with a BS degree in Education. Later, he earned a Master's degree in Administration from WCU.
In 1956, Bill began his career in education at Marion High School while he also served in the US Army and NC National Guard. In 1957, he started working at Enka High School, where he spent 25 years as a teacher, coach, athletic director, and assistant principal. He dedicated himself to his profession as principal of Enka High for 13 years. His faculty, students, and players fondly remember him as a kind and influential leader and still call him 'Coach' or 'Big Mac' to this day.
In 1982, he accepted a position as Associate Superintendent of Buncombe County Schools where he served until he retired in 1989. His retirement was short lived, as he became the Assistant Buncombe County Manager in 1989 and Buncombe County Manager in 1993, a position he held until his retirement in 1997. He loved the people he worked with in both the school system and county government and missed them greatly after retirement.
Bill was highly involved with his community, spearheading successful bond referendums for schools and colleges in Buncombe County from 1983 to 2001. He served on numerous county and civic committees and was the chairman of the DSS board for many years, as well as a member of the Health board and Integrated Human Services board. He was also instrumental in making the Asheville Humane Society a reality, while serving on the founding board of the Buncombe County Friends of Animals.
"Big Mac" had many interests, including gardening, painting, and singing tenor in one of ACT's Christmas productions. He was a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. He was an exceptional golfer and was named a onetime Country Club of Asheville Golf Champion, as well as a Senior Club Champion on many occasions. He won the NC Principals Golf Championship four times, and was named the NC/SC Senior Golf Champion in 2004.
Bill's family and friends will always remember his sense of humor, and how he loved getting together for holidays and celebrations. He was a member of the Central United Methodist Church of Asheville.
He is survived by his wife, Linda Truncer McElrath of Fletcher; daughter Debi McElrath Morgan (John) of Candler; son Bill McElrath (Connie) of Arden; and grandchildren, Evan Morgan (Kelly), Taylor Miller, (Josh), and Payton McElrath. Also surviving are his step children; Robert Elliott (Angie) of Greensboro, Chris Elliott (Pam) of Apex, Jan Elliott Bell (Vance) of Asheville, and step-grandchildren; Madison, Hunter, Eva, Gus, Logan, Lynden, Peyton, and Alec.
Visitation will be at Groce Funeral Home, Lake Julian, Arden, NC, from 4:00 to 6:00 PM on Saturday, July 1. In remembrance of Bill, some of his paintings will be on display, and his family will be celebrating the extraordinary legacy he left behind.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Buncombe County Schools Foundation, the Asheville City Schools Foundations, and the WCU Foundation.