John O. Gilleland Sr., father of Lincolntonâ€™s mayor and former S. Ray Lowder Elementary School principal, has passed away at the age of 79.
He died late Monday afternoon after a long struggle with kidney issues, according to correspondence between members of the Lincolnton Rotary Club, of which he was also a member.
Mayor John Gilleland Jr. spoke with the Times-News Tuesday regarding the loss of his father, saying he was “such a great daddy.”
“He was a fine man,” he said. “He certainly had his priorities in order.”
The younger Gilleland said his father had been on dialysis for five years and ultimately succumbed to a “breakdown of organs.” He noted that he had been at deathâ€™s door four or five times and fought through it each time.
“We expected him to do it again,” he said.
The elder Gilleland had taken a fall Sunday morning and was admitted to Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory. However, the younger Gilleland said the fall was unrelated to his fatherâ€™s death.
Stephen Starnes, the current Rotary president, recounted a recent memory of Gilleland from the Feb. 6 meeting of the club, during which the younger Gilleland gave his “State of the City” address.
“How fitting that at the last Rotary meeting John would attend, his son, the honorable mayor of Lincolnton, would be our guest speaker,” he said in an email Tuesday.
“Before the meeting, I explained to John Jr. that when I first came to Lincolnton our club was meeting at the old Western Steer,” Starnes continued. “Every week, his dad, John Sr., would give a happy buck regaling us with (the) latest exploits of his grandson, Thunderfoot (John Jr.â€™s son).
“When the mayor rose to speak, he deferred to his father and asked if John Sr. wanted to say anything about Thunderfoot. Without hesitation, John seized the moment, looked directly at Robbie Gates and said, â€˜For years as a principal, I was known as the “meanest man in Lincolnton” (to which Robbie offered a hearty “Amen”), then I was known as the grandfather of Thunderfoot. Now, everybody knows me as the mayorâ€™s father. You know, Iâ€™m not sure who I am anymore.â€™”
Of this joke, the younger Gilleland commented that his father “spoke for about 45 seconds and brought the house down.”
Despite Gillelandâ€™s joking, those in Lincolnton know exactly who he was for so many people.
Starnes concluded his statement by remarking on the many roles Gilleland played within both the community and his home as a “principal, educator, molder of young minds, husband, father and grandfather.”
“Youâ€™re walking with the giants again,” he said of Gilleland.
To Becky Burke, former third-grade and fifth-grade teacher at S. Ray Lowder, Gilleland was a “wonderful principal” and a “great administrator.” She taught under him for about 18 years.
“He knew exactly what was going on in his school,” she remembered.
She described him as both understanding and knowledgeable. Burke also noted that Gilleland would often say he could “walk the halls” of the school and know what was happening at all times.
“I have a high admiration for him,” she added.
Gilleland was born on Aug. 5, 1932, in Iredell County and was a veteran of the United States Army, having served during the Korean War.
He was preceded in death by his parents and his wife, Rebecca Jane Howell Gilleland. He is survived by three sons, two sisters and three grandchildren.
A receiving for family and friends is planned for today from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Warlick Funeral Home on Dave Warlick Drive in Lincolnton. The funeral service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at Southside Baptist Church on Southside Road.