JEFFERSON — In honor and celebration of his life, a memorial ceremony was held for the Honorable Mitchell L. McLean on the sixth anniversary of his passing at the Ashe County Courthouse on Wednesday, July 3.
McLean, who served as the chief district court judge of the 23rd judicial district of North Carolina, passed away on July 3, 2013, after attempting to rescue two people from a riptide current off the coast of Sunset Beach, N.C. Family, friends and colleagues of McLean gathered in the superior courtroom to share their memories and stories.
To open the ceremony, the Honorable Michael G. Duncan shared a few words with those in attendance. Duncan was appointed as the chief district court judge after McLean’s passing, and he said he learned a lot from McLean during the years.
Duncan talked about three characteristics of McLean that stood out to him: a passion for life, compassion for others and “great love.”
“He loved life,” Duncan said, “and it was important to him that others experienced that as well. He oftentimes — every time I would see him — he had a smile on his face.”
Duncan added that McLean’s passion for life was also visible through his work as a judge.
“He also had compassion,” Duncan said. “He loved people. He wanted to help people.”
Duncan continued, saying that McLean’s love for his family, friends and colleagues was a shining example for anyone who met him.
“If we could live life like Mitchell did — with a passion, with a zeal — if we could help others, and if we could love others, what an example and what a greater world this would be,” Duncan said.
Ben Hurley and Jay Vannoy, two attorneys who spent years working alongside McLean, also shared stories during the ceremony. Their friendship with McLean went beyond the walls of the courthouse, and Hurley shared in a letter many of the fond memories they made together on the golf course.
Jay Vannoy also shared stories about McLean, saying that he first met McLean when he was about 10 years old. After McLean finished law school at Wake Forest University, he returned to the High Country to work with Gary Vannoy, Jay Vannoy’s father, at his law firm.
“I was lucky that I had the pleasure for a few years before he went on the bench to practice law with him,” Vannoy said. “He loved his job because he loved to help people.”
Vannoy added that McLean’s love for helping people is what led to him jumping in the water to save Edward J. Golley on July 3, 2013. Authorities credited McLean for saving Golley’s life, though McLean and Mary Anne Gallway, who was also trapped in the riptide, lost theirs.
“He jumped in that water without even thinking because he was willing to help people,” Vannoy said. “He died a hero for it.”
Pam Barlow, clerk of Superior Court, then took the floor to share her memories of McLean. After sharing some stories, Barlow and Duncan unveiled a portrait of McLean that will now hang in the judges’ chambers alongside a declaration and resolution of appreciation by the North Carolina State Bar.
“Whereas, without hesitation or concern for his own safety, Judge McLean entered the waters in an effort to assist other swimmers in distress, in an act of his love, compassion and consideration of his fellow man,” the resolution reads.
Barlow closed by quoting John 15:13.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” Barlow read.