John McFarland remembered for dedication to community

John McFarland, the executive director for the American Red Cross, Southeast Mississippi Chapter, died Tuesday night. He was 76.

McFarland served the Red Cross for more than eight years as its executive director. He had worked with the organization as a volunteer for years before that, often emceeing events.

Annette Rowland, Communications Director for the American Red Cross’ Alabama and Mississippi Region, said McFarland volunteered with Red Cross for 41 years before taking the executive director position in 2015.

“Denise Smith (blood recruitment services) said John was a mentor for her since she came into the organization five years ago,” Rowland said. “He was always the go-to person. And we loved his sense of humor.

“He was so passionate about the work he does and so passionate about his community. He was a pillar of the community because he left that legacy.”

Rowland said Mike Brown, the executive director for the South Alabama chapter, will handle McFarland’s responsibilities until a new executive director is named for the Southeast Chapter.

Prior to joining the Red Cross, McFarland worked for 42 years at the Sun Herald, serving as the marketing services director in his final role at the paper before leaving.

He often was seen in the community as an emcee and spearheaded the Salute to the Military and helped organize what is now the Gulf Coast Chamber’s One Coast Awards.

Ricky Mathews, former publisher of the Sun Herald, said McFarland’s legacy will be felt for years.

“He had tremendous responsibilities in marketing (at the Sun Herald), he helped us with our South Mississippi strategy, he was the editor of the Journal of South Mississippi Business,” Mathews said. “He was massively involved in the community from the chambers to United Way to of course the Red Cross and in so many other ways.

“He was not only an organizer of very significant events, but also usually the emcee of those events.And he was really, really good at it.
John will be missed in this community and his legacy will live on.”

Mathews also said his work as an emcee was noted in how he quick he was on his feet.

“He was a consummate emcee and could handle any challenge thrown at him and he was really, really good at it.”

Mathews also talked about the legacy McFarland left as one of the founders of the Salute to the Military.

“I had the opportunity to watch John in action, being one of the key organizers of the Salute to Military event,” he said. “I know what he poured into it in terms of creative input, in terms of the kind of recognition … He was always aware of the military’s role and how to pay homage to the branches of the military and where people sat and the honor guard.

“I don’t anyone would argue that it wouldn’t have become that had John not been the major supporter and leader of that effort.”

The Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce released a statement on social media about McFarland, saying he touched the lives of many on the Coast.

“John’s unwavering commitment to fostering economic growth and prosperity on the Gulf Coast was truly inspiring,” the statement read in part. “His visionary leadership and tireless efforts played a pivotal role in shaping our vibrant community.
“From advocating for local businesses to spearheading initiatives that supported our brave servicemen and women, he touched the lives of many.”

McFarland was an Army veteran, serving three years and was a graduate of the University of Dayton.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 45 years, Margie, who died in February of this year. He is survived by his son, Christopher.

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