The Rev. Claude McBride, a prominent member of the Athens community for more than half a century, passed away at his home in Athens Friday, August 23, 2013. He was 81.
Survivors include his wife, Gayle Gordy McBride, Athens; son, Walt (Claude Jr.) and wife Lori, Gainesville; a daughter Wynter, Athens; and five grandchildren: Harrison, Claudia and Abigayle, Athens; and Susannah and Gracie, Gainesville.
McBride was born May 11, 1932 in Columbus to Walter and Ivy McBride.
Interment will be at New Hope Baptist Church in Louvale, GA, where Rev. McBride had his first pastorate. It is also the hometown of his wife, Gayle.
A memorial service is planned for Sept. 22 at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, where he was Pastor Emeritus.
Although best known as pastor of Milledge Avenue Baptist Church for 20 years, and as chaplain of the Georgia football team, McBride was truly a “man for all seasons.”
He began his career as a journalist, with the Columbus Ledger, in the city where he was born and grew up. During his years as a reporter he was one of four Ledger staff members covering the neighboring town of Phenix City, AL, where in 1954 the Alabama National Guard took over the town for nearly two years as corrupt officials were arrested and tried.
McBride was the youngest member of the four-man team whose reporting on Phenix City helped The Ledger win the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for Community Service. The Ledger is still the only Georgia newspaper to earn that most coveted Pulitzer.
The celebration dinner was especially memorable for McBride, whose date was Gayle Gordy, an Auburn student who later became his wife.
While working for the newspaper, McBride also pastored a small church in nearby Stewart County.
He received a bachelor of divinity and master of theology degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and held pastorates in Henderson, KY, Jacksonville Beach, FL and Calhoun, GA before arriving in Athens in 1964 to take over Milledge Avenue Baptist Church.
In his student days, he had been a member of the Redcoat Marching Band, and Men’s Glee Club and a varsity cheerleader for three years.
Returning to Athens and his alma mater in 1964, he began a special outreach to student athletes and was soon asked to be the advisor to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. That role attracted the attention of football coach Vince Dooley who asked McBride to become the chaplain for the Georgia football team.
“Chaplain McBride has many functions,” Dooley told a reporter. “They are not narrowly defined. We just play it by ear, and he uses his own imagination, which is quite creative. I don’t know of any school which involves a chaplain to the extent Georgia does.”
McBride held that unofficial job for 40 years, and counseled some of the greatest Bulldog players, including Herschel Walker and other members of the 1980 National Championship team. He officiated at the marriage ceremonies for many players and a large number of players attended Milledge Avenue Baptist.
His association with the university expanded in 1983 when he was asked to become associate director of Alumni Relations, which involved leading alumni tours throughout the world. He retired from his pastorate after 20 years, “but not from the ministry,” he said.
McBride was also a prolific speaker and entertainer, appearing at hundreds of events as his alter ego “Happy Calhoun,” from Possum Gap. Dressed in tattered overalls with a smile exposing sporadic dental work, “Happy” related humorous stories, and usually left audiences laughing and inspired.
Among his many affiliations, Rev. McBride was proud to be a member of the Athens Kiwanis Club, The Touchdown Club of Athens, Gridiron, Sphinx and Blue Key.
The family requests that memorial contributions be made to Milledge Avenue Baptist Church Foundation, UGA Baptist Student Ministries, Habitat for Humanity, the UGA Foundation, or a charity of the donor’s choice.
Online condolences may be offered at www.bernsteinfuneralhome.com
Bernstein Funeral Home and Cremation Service is in charge of arrangements.