School leaders come in all types.
Through 32 years working with in Orange County Schools, the common word that's mentioned by friends and co-workers of Bill McCormick is “calm,” as well as his dry sense of humor.
McCormick passed away on October 7 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's Disease at the Memory Care Center in the Twin Lakes Community in Burlington. He was 72.
McCormick served as the Principal at Cameron Park Elementary School from 1994-2001. Before that, he was the principal at Grady Brown Elementary from 1978-1989. He also worked as an assistant principal and a science teacher at Stanford Middle School. After starting his career in Northampton County, McCormick joined the Orange County School System in 1972.
“He was pretty easygoing,” said McCormick's son, Jonathan, who works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Raleigh. “He gave everybody an opportunity to do their job, but he could interject when he needed to.”
Like many kids, Jonathan grew up playing Little League Baseball across Hillsborough in the late 1980s. Bill's wife, Joan, had a cousin, Sonny Dixon, that played with four Major League Baseball teams in the 1950s, including the New York Yankees. Jonathan also shared an affinity for baseball cards with his father.
“He would take me to baseball card shows,” Jonathan said. “I was always a Jose Canseco fan, but my dad always collected antiques. He got me to go for the older, more seasoned cards. We were real big on the 1955 Bowman cards that looked like a wooden TV around the border.”
Martha Walker worked with McCormick for a decade at Cameron Park as a secretary and with Orange County Schools for 27 years.
“He was always really good with the kids and the staff,” Walker said. “He was a very concerned principal all the time. He treated everyone equal. That's why I retired when I did (in 2015). The 27 years I was a school secretary I thought one of these years I was going to come up with a principal that I might not enjoy as much as I did with Bill. We were really blessed to have what we did.”
Even after McCormick retired from Cameron Park, he would visit his old school to talk with longtime counselor Tom Carr. McCormick would often carry along little figures from McDonald's so Carr could give them to his students.
McCormick's role as an educator influenced another generation of teachers. His daughter, Emily, grew up as a childhood friend to neighbor Katie DeVitto, who graduated one year early from Orange High in 1990 to start a career in education. After serving as an Associate Dean at East Carolina University, DeVitto (now Katie O'Connor) is currently the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham.
“I had the privilege of interacting with Bill during my tenure with Orange County Schools” said former Orange High School Principal Dr. Stephen Halkiotis on McCormick's tribute wall at Rich & Thompson Funeral & Cremation Service. “He truly cared about students and staff. He exemplified all that is truly good about committed public school educators. He was a truly great human being.”
At home, McCormick remembered his role as a father. After Jonathan's first year at N.C. State, he was left wondering what he wanted to do for a living. Seeking an answer, he left school to work at the Mount Snow Ski Resort in Vermont for seven months.
“I pretty much messed around my first year,” Jonathan said. “I'm sure he was worried when I went to Vermont behind the scenes, but he always supported me. I'm sure he was worried that I wouldn't come back, but he didn't share that with me. When I decided to come back to school, he was excited.”
Jonathan eventually graduated and moved to Washington, D.C. to work at the Navy Service Welfare Center. During his daily traffic battles across the George Washington Parkway and Legion Bridge, McCormick found plenty of time to call his father daily.
“I did it until he couldn't use a phone anymore,” Jonathan said. “I went through a pretty big phase, at first, where I felt a little lost until I started meeting people. I always called him on my way home from work. He was more of a friend to me then than a father. ”
Bill and Joan would also make frequent train trips to visit their son, who stayed in the nation's capital for seven years before moving with his wife, Alisa, to Savannah, GA.
Jonathan named his first son William after his father. It was shortly after William's birth in 2012 that Bill could no longer travel down to visit because of Alzheimer's.
“It was too long of a drive for him,” Jonathan said. “He loved being a grandfather. I always hate it because I remember how close I was to my grandfather and loved playing with him. But he never had that opportunity.”
Bill first became a grandfather when Emily gave birth to her son, Simon.
“They would always play with Legos together,” Jonathan said.
Despite being stricken with Alzheimer's, Bill maintained his memory for years. But the disease inhibited his brain's ability to process what he was seeing.
“He didn't get around very well,” Jonathan said. “He fought it for 12 years. It wasn't too long after he retired where he was diagnosed. My mom has hinted that she thought something was going on shortly before he retired. He used to always walk to get the mail, but it reached a point where he told my mom he couldn't do that anymore.”
“I never noticed anything like that with him,” Walker said. “If he was suffering from Alzheimer's before he retired, he never showed it.”
As a final tribute to his father, Jonathan shared a prayer on his Facebook page that his mother taught him as a child.
The light of God surrounds us
The love of God enfolds us
The power of God protects us
The presence of God watches over us
Wherever we are, God is, and all is well.