McClay Powell had arrived as a student at Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School not much more than 15 months ago, but she didn’t stay the new kid very long.
The entire eighth grade gathered in the school gym last week for a photo that’s on LBC Middle’s website. It says simply, “We will miss you McClay.”
The 13-year-old had battled heart issues since 2007 and needed major surgery in Atlanta last month. Her weakened condition led to other complications, and McClay died March 9.
In the school hallway are pictures from a recent school pageant, the last big activity in which McClay got to participate. Her smiling photograph in an evening gown is there, and right below it is a picture of her good friend, Hart Mathis.
McClay’s dad had been surprised about her decision to participate.
“This is somebody who had always been a tomboy,” said Preston Powell. “McClay did well and asked one of the pageant people if all the girls could hold hands and hug the winners. They ended up doing that.”
On the day of the funeral last Thursday, about 75 children and adults attended an earlier memorial service at the school’s flagpole that chilly morning at 7:30.
Teacher Vernon Ball hadn’t yet gotten to known McClay very well. McClay had joined his Fellowship of Christian Athletes club, and he was impressed by her encouragement of other students and the values she brought to the group. Her dedication inspired Ball to lead the service.
Seventh-grader Randee Durden presented a prayer, and Lydia Bell and Anna McDaniel read scripture.
In 2007, McClay was diagnosed with aortic stenosis, and her subsequent surgeries afterward included a valve replacement. But her situation remained dire.
“We were just trying to get her old enough to get a (adult-sized) valve that would last her a long period of time,” her father said.
He and all the family members had been hopeful of the recent surgery, which went well. But more issues with McClay’s heart emerged.
She was such a good kid, Powell said, taking advice from her family seriously. If other kids were having problems, she would find a way to assist them and always with a smile on her face, he said.
McClay just enjoyed being a part of everything, her dad said. She insisted on dancing hip-hop, but Powell finally had to say no to cheerleading and softball, which would be too strenuous.
“So many people came to the funeral,” he said. “So many girls came out, saying how McClay had helped them get through stuff. She just seemed to touch everybody.”
Guidance counselor Paula Winchester and about three dozen teachers planned a tribute to McClay for the entire week. A large banner was signed, and kids and teachers wore a different color every day – starting off Monday with red in support of the American Heart Association.
Before McClay died, the school had discussed tentative plans for a fundraising concert in May to help the family with expenses. Those plans remain, Winchester said.
“McClay made a big impression in a unique way,” the counselor said. “She was not ‘Miss Personality.’ She was just so comfortable being herself ... completely selfless and never thinking about herself. She always tried to make sure others were OK.”
Mathis was among a group of girls who loved McClay’s smile and her friendship. They won’t see her again on earth, they said, but know they will see her again someday in a better place. Still, they, too, had been looking forward to her return to school.
“When she got back from the hospital, I was going to give her a hat with ‘Miss Miracle’ on it,” Mathis said.