|John Angus McLeod
19 August 1895 - 28 October 1980
Robeson Co NC Madison Co NC
from Through the Long Years,
Chapman, Norton, and Smith,
Editors, Mars Hill College, 2006, p.
John Angus McLeod was a professor of English literature at Mars Hill
College for several decades, including the period from 1962 through
1966, when I was a student at the college, majoring in English literature.
Also, from 1939 until 1947, he served simultaneously as pastor of Piney
Mountain Baptist Church, located a few miles south of the college, in
northern Buncombe County. My mother’s family, the Shepherds, had
been active members of that church from its beginnings through her
formative years and later, and then my parents moved our family to that
community – a return home for her -- about 1951; so I attended the
church from then on through my college years. Once or twice during the
1950’s, Professor McLeod returned to Piney Mountain to substitute for Rev. M. H. Kendall (also a Mars
Hill professor), providing me my first, and pleasant, exposure to him. I still remember how he found
heartening, uplifting grace and beauty in the texts he chose for his sermons.
At the college, Professor McLeod taught me the survey of English literature during my second year. (It
was, upon arriving for his class in the old administration building -- now Marshbanks Hall -- on the
afternoon of Friday November 22 1963, that I learned that President Kennedy had been assassin-
ated. Prof. McLeod sorrowfully dismissed the class, as it was unthinkable that we could continue as
Later, when I chose English as my field for major study, he taught me a course in the works of 14th-
century poet Geoffrey Chaucer, and a Survey of World Literature.
Even beyond the age of 70, when he was my professor, he was still tall, straight, and trim. He combed
his thinning grey hair, neatly barbered, sleekly back, and always wore a jacket and tie, both of some
understated color and style. His shoes were casual, suitable for tramping the hills of Mars Hill, from
home to office to various classrooms and back again, but always elegant in their simplicity.
In class, or in conference, he spoke in a firm baritone voice. Rarely raising it, he spoke with calm
authority, as one who knew himself well, knew his material well, and did not need to impress others. His
accent was literate and cultivated, revealing, no doubt, his decades of deep acquaintance with fine
poetry and prose, including the Elizabethan English of Shakespeare and the King James Version of
the Bible. In my experience he was always kind, even when a student whom he had asked for
commentary gave a disappointing answer. He had a way of taking what was given and expanding it to
demonstrate a more thoughtful analysis; everyone, including the student, surely understood that a
correction had been delivered.
He was a cheerful lecturer, deftly calling our attention to great passages from the texts we were
studying, including frequent allusions to Biblical themes with which he was well acquainted. He could
chuckle heartily about a bawdy story from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and he could just as well touch
us somberly as he pointed up the plight of Count Ugolino in Dante’s Inferno.
As was the general custom at the college in those days, he addressed male students as "Mister" and
female students as "Miss". I daresay that, for most of us, that introduction to adulthood had the effect
of making us take what we were doing more seriously.
Because he had been pastor at my church and was highly respected by my Shepherd relatives, whom
he knew from many Sunday-dinner visits after church, his far-ranging intellect was especially exciting
to me, pushing back mental boundaries and demonstrating that ideas did not need to be threatening.
To me, his intellectual curiosity came to exemplify Christian humility at its best. I have remained forever
grateful for his example.
Aside from all the students whom Professor McLeod inspired, his other important professional
accomplishment was researching and writing the history of Mars Hill College, From These Stones:
Mars Hill College 1856-1967. This excellent book was published initially in 1955 (probably for the
centennial anniversary of the college), and then updated and released again in 1968. I first
encountered this book, when it was new, on a shelf in the home of my Aunt Bergie Shepherd Hobson.
Now, more recently, the book has become a most valuable resource for these pages.
- Dwight Childers
22 August 2009