Education lost a true champion when President Emeritus Dr. Charles J. McClain passed away on April 9, 2015, at the age of 83. Well known for his visionary leadership and his commitment to education, he profoundly affected countless students, not just at Truman, but around the state of Missouri and the nation as well.
As president of the University from 1970 to 1989, McClain helped transform the school into Missouri’s only statewide public liberal arts and sciences institution. McClain established a value-added program to track the strengths and weaknesses of students. As a result of his leadership, the University received national recognition for its academic excellence and assessment programs, including the G. Theodore Mitau Award for Innovation and Change in Higher Education, the highest award from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The University was also ranked one of the five most innovative colleges and universities in the country in a U.S. News & World Report survey of college and university presidents.
“Dr. McClain’s imprint on this University and community is unparalleled,” President Troy Paino said. “In short, Truman would not be what it is today without his vision and persistent leadership.”
In addition to reinventing the University, McClain also saw the need to invest in its students. He is responsible for establishing the school’s Pershing Society Scholarship Program, named in honor of U.S. Army general and University alumnus John J. Pershing. The scholarship was designed to provide a Truman education to some of the best and brightest students from across the nation. In March 2014, to mark its 40th anniversary, nearly 300 Pershing alumni and current Pershing scholars, as well as administrators, faculty and staff involved with the program, came together to honor McClain for his foresight to establish it.
McClain’s accomplishments at Truman were impressive, and easily enough to warrant his name on the school’s administrative building, but what he achieved as an educator away from the University was just as remarkable. His career began at the age of 16 when he accepted a teaching position in a one-room school near Sullivan, Mo. In 1963, he founded Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo., where he served as president for seven years. McClain also occupied various roles in education in the capacity of assistant professor, school superintendent, elementary school principal and elementary teacher, as well as assistant professor and assistant dean for the College of Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
In 1989, McClain was selected by the Coordinating Board for Higher Education to serve as Missouri’s commissioner of higher education, and he later worked as a consultant for the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., as the desegregation monitor for the Kansas City School District. In 2003, McClain received the Des Lee Distinguished Professorship at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The following year, he was selected as a member of the Missouri Academy of Squires, an organization limited to 100 Missourians of achievement.
An educational leader through and through, in 2008, at the age of 77, McClain became the interim president of Fairmont State University in West Virginia.
McClain earned his undergraduate degree from Missouri State University in 1954 and his advanced degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
His wife, Judge Ann Covington of Columbia, survives him. His daughters Anita Kinkeade (’74) and Melanie Brown (’78) are both alumni of the University.
To honor his memory, McClain’s family suggests contributions to any of the three Truman State University Foundation scholarships with which he was associated: The Charles McClain Scholarship; the General John J. Pershing Scholarship Endowment; and the Charles J. McClain/ABC Scholarship. For more information, contact the Office of Advancement at (800) 452-6678 or visit