Jerry McClary has never met a stranger – at least not in the nearly 25 years he’s been at the College of Charleston.
As the manager of custodial duties at the 90-year-old Sottile Theatre, McClary greets everyone he sees – and always with a pleasant word and a smile.
“I love meeting and getting along with people,” says McClary, who has worked in almost every building on campus over his tenure, during which time he has also been the sole person to change out the Sottile Theatre marquee’s messages. “I love working here. That’s the thing that keeps me going: I mean, fellow workers, students, professors, everybody. That’s what drives me.”
McClary wasn’t always such a people person.
“I wasn’t always nice,” he offers. “I used to be mean. I’d cuss and get angry a lot.”
But, as Hurricane Hugo began turning toward Charleston in 1989, McClary, too, began changing course.
“I talked with my momma on the phone that night. She said it was terribly windy and she was afraid,” he recalls. “After I hung up, I started praying. I told the Lord, ‘If you let me and my family live through this storm, I’ll change. I’ll be good and I’ll serve you all the rest of my life.’”
He and his family lived. Still, it wasn’t until a few months later, when McClary saw himself in a home video, that he really started to change.
“I saw myself cussing and being ornery on screen. I said, ‘That can’t be me. Am I really like that?’ So, that’s when I changed,” says the dedicated family man, whose wife of 32 years, Cheryl McClary, also works for the College’s Custodial Services.
When he’s not working, McClary spends much of his time at New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church, where he serves as a deacon and sings in the choir.
“That’s important to me,” he says. “Being in the church is something I learned growing up.”
Growing up in a family of 16 children in Kingstree, S.C., McClary also learned respect for others and the importance of working hard – and he applies both life lessons to his work at the College, especially when he’s changing out the words on the Sottile Theatre marquee.
“That board really gets people’s attention. Putting those messages up there: That gives me a sense of pride, and it makes me happy. I see how people are joyful when they read those messages. They like it. It puts a smile on their faces. Of course, I’ve made a couple of mistakes over the years: putting the wrong letter in the wrong spot,” he chuckles. “But that makes people smile even more.”
And so does McClary’s friendly face and warm greetings. So, next time you see him changing out the marquee, don’t be a stranger. He certainly won’t be.