If you think you know a thing or two about Jack McCall, you might be surprised.
You might be surprised to know that he’s ridden a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon more than a dozen times
You might be surprised to know that he cooks mighty fine sausage and ham in an iron skillet.
You might be surprised to know that his grandchildren call him by the same name his mother called her grandfather — Daddy Jack.
You might be surprised to know that he has decided upon the perfect epitaph for his tombstone.
However, if you read his weekly “Across the Miles” column, which recently began running in The Wilson Post, you would not be surprised to know that this motivational humorist holds a deep appreciation for the values of an old-school upbringing, life lessons he gleaned from his parents and grandparents while growing up a farm boy in the hills and river bottoms of Smith County.
Opportunities to share those lessons have carried him to every state in the union and allowed him to share the gift of hope to thousands.
McCall, 68, described his calling saying, “I remind people of what’s important and do it in an entertaining way. My strength is in storytelling and resurrecting memories. I don’t tell my stories because my stories are important. I tell my stories to remind other people of their stories because everyone has a story.
“I want them to feel inspired and good about themselves and give them hope. I’m kind of a hope merchant.”
The speaker often turns to the past to point others toward a brighter future. He draws material from his life experiences, specifically from his childhood on a 67-acre tobacco farm in the Punch community three miles west of South Carthage.
“My mother and father and I clicked from day one, and I spent lots of time with my maternal grandfather. I literally got to experience another generation, the one before my father’s. I got a bird’s-eye view of it,” said McCall, who spent many hours at his grandparents’ farm in Brim Hollow where their house had no running water, was heated by a wood stove and the only electricity came in the form of drop cords in the center of two rooms.
Jack, the son of Frank T. and Mary Helen (Brim) McCall, grew up with three brothers, Tom, John and Dewey, and a sister, Shari, on the farm owned by their grandmother, Amy Manning McCall, where they raised cattle and hogs
“We were busy but very happy. Mom and Dad were great people, almost ideal. Dad was a tobacco farmer, and Mom was a homemaker. They really complemented each other really well. Mom was a quack doctor. She called herself Dr. McCall,” he said with a laugh.
McCall got a small taste of the road that lay ahead at the age of 12 when he entered a declaration contest in the seventh grade at Carthage Elementary School and recited President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address (“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”)
He recalled, “I got beat bad. Mom said, ‘Why don’t you do it next year and you can do it better?’ ”
He followed her advice and won the contest in his school as well as in the all-county event. That led him to take debate in high school and earned him a debate scholarship to Tennessee Tech after he graduated from Carthage High School in 1969.
Before those college days, McCall worked a variety of jobs beginning at the age of 12 at G&R Dairy Chef (later to become Brenda’s Restaurant and now Michael & Hannah’s), where he earned 40 cents an hour. During his junior and senior years in high school, he served as host of Sunset Serenade Sunday afternoons on WRKM-Radio in Carthage as he spun big-band records.
He also labored as a livestock auctioneer and clerk for Bobby Woodard at Farmers Commission Company in South Carthage and spent a couple of summers measuring tobacco.
After a year at Tech, he headed for Knoxville and earned an animal science degree from the University of Tennessee. Upon graduating he became the manager of the stockyard in Woodbury, Tenn., from 1973 to 1978.
In 1979, he married Kathy Oakley of Hartsville. Wed for 40 years, they have three sons, J. Brim, Jonathan and Joseph; and seven grandchildren under the age of 9.
After serving five years as a livestock grader for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, McCall worked five years as a loan officer for Citizens Bank of Hartsville and three years as manager of Cumberland Bank in Gallatin.
Next, he sold insurance and did estate planning for the Donaho & Jones Agency in Hartsville, was executive director of Sumner Foundation in Gallatin and then administrator of Trousdale Medical Center in Hartsville.
“I did a lot of things for about five years,” quipped McCall, who also studied at the Graduate School of Banking of the South at Louisiana State University.
McCall had been making speeches on the sidelines since he left college, much of it on the 4-H circuit. In the early 1990s, he mailed a promotional package to 15 speaker’s bureaus.
“One bureau in Arkansas called me the day after they received it, and said, ‘We think we can use you,’ ” remembered McCall. They hired him and began booking him for nationwide audiences.
Among the titles of his presentations are “Making Your Life Count,” “The Challenge of Change” and “Life: The Great Balancing Act.”
The non-business world
In 2000, he dropped out of the corporate world and went full time into professional speaking via his Jack McCall & Associates. He says it was a great decision. He makes about two long-distance engagements a month now along with one or two closer to home. In his peak year, he made 87 talks across the country and has stood before crowds as large as 2,500 and as small as three.
McCall said, “The most interesting place I’ve been was to Anchorage, Alaska. That was the only place where I made a speech before daylight at 9 a.m. in the morning, and it was pitch black.”
Among his clients have been Bridgestone/Firestone, Century 21, the CIA, Hartford Life Insurance Company, John Deere, Marriott Corporation, American Farm Bureau, Oregon State Police, Sherwin Williams, State Farm Insurance, Tennessee Bankers Association, Toshiba, Toyota and UPS.
Twelve years ago, he began writing a newspaper column, which now appears in The Wilson Post, The Dickson Post, The Cheatham County Exchange, The Carthage Courier, The Hartsville Vidette and The Macon County Times among others.
He also has compiled some of his best columns into five books: “Fireflies in Winter,” “Snowflakes in Summertime,” “Daffodils in Autumn,” “Falling Leaves and Springtime” and “Mansions in Your Memory.”
He plans to start on his sixth book soon and says, “I’m trying to crank out a theme book that will be a support to my most popular speech that is titled ‘Rekindling the Fire When You’re Down to a Pilot Light.’ The book will be titled ‘Rekindling the Fire: The Care and Feeding of the Human Spirit.’ ”
McCall and his wife are members of First Baptist Church of Hartsville, and he has been teaching a Sunday school class 51 years.
“When I was 17, in the little country church (Plunkett’s Creek Missionary Baptist Church) that I attended, the teacher, Reese Enoch, asked me to take over his Sunday school class in the auditorium. After a month they brought the intermediate class in so I had everyone from 10-year-old boys to 90 year olds,” he said.
Eight years ago, he initiated a Who So Ever Will men’s Sunday school class that nowadays meets at 8:30 a.m. Sundays in the Early Bird Restaurant near the Hartsville town square. He started by offering physical and spiritual food.
“I began as the ham and sausage maker,” he said, “but I really wanted them to come for the lesson, not the food. I compiled a list of 100 men and wrote them all a letter to let them know we were gonna meet in the restaurant. It would last 30 minutes. And then I said, ‘Come and have a biscuit.’ We had eight or nine come the first few weeks, and now we average 55. They’re coming from four counties and from all denominations,” he said.
“We have four rules: Come as you are. You won’t be asked to read or pray. And you won’t be hassled if you don’t come back. The best thing about it is the fellowship of these guys getting together and giving each other hope.”
During his free time, the orator raises cattle and has been canning fresh vegetables, sort of a tribute to his late mother. A few years back he snared blue ribbons at the Trousdale County Fair for his tomato juice, salsa, tomato relish, banana peppers and snap beans. This past summer he canned 60 quarts of tomato juice and 24 pints of his mother’s famous green-tomato pickle.
As for what’s next, McCall says, “I’m still doing what I love to do and think I have 10 more good years in me. I’m not one of those who thinks about retirement.
“When I die, it will suit me fine if all it says on my tombstone is ‘Here lies a Bible teacher.’ I’m a blessed man.”
READ JACK’S BOOKS
Jack McCall has written five books: “Mansions in Your Memory,” “Fireflies in Winter,” “Snowflakes in Summer Time,” “Daffodils in Autumn” and ‘Falling Leaves and Springtime.” They may be purchased for $12.50 each at DT McCall & Sons in Lebanon or from his website, jackmccall.com.
JACK’S FAVORITE THINGS
Comedian: Red Skelton
TV show: Gunsmoke
Singer: Karen Carpenter
Movie: Dances with Wolves
Book: The Chronicles of Narnia series
Food: Ribeye steak
Beverage: Sweet tea
Restaurant: Longhorn Steakhouse
Biggest pet peeve: People who don’t return their grocery cart