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Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014 12:01 am

A most extraordinary 95 ½ years of life

Preston Levon McCrary Sr. Oct. 28, 1919 - June 26, 2014

Preston Levon McCrary Sr.
I knew Mr. Preston at the earliest of ages; he was my dad’s (James Thomas Woodson) best friend and neighbor, and in childhood, his daughter, Cheryl, was my best friend as well. Needless to say, I loved him and, more importantly, liked him, too. Though I am unable to do his extraordinary life, friendships and stories any real justice, I hope from a child-into-adulthood perspective I can offer a glimpse into what made him so special and missed.

From the earliest I can remember, Mr. Preston was the life and focus of any party. He was the funniest person, best dresser, most outgoing, best looking, always ready to dance  and “The Most Interesting Man in the World” decades before Dos Equis. His name stayed in people’s mouths, which is something you take note of, even as a child.

My dad is a bowler and Mr. Preston (a Hall of Famer and King of the Hill legend) was his mentor, coach and teammate. I was an old Spillway rat as a kid and my joy was to tag along with Dad and watch the African-American “Original Rollers” take over those eight lanes on Sundays. No doubt Mr. Preston was like the Benevolent King with his amazing court. There were some legendary bowlers there, but his scores were consistently some of the highest, his dress was always flawless and his form was balanced, repetitive and beautiful like ballet. Even into his last months on earth, the scores may have decreased but the form was still balanced and flawless.

I wanted to be like him because, while my dad was a bit of a hothead, Press, as they called him, never shied from making his point, but always with the perfect mix of humor, objectivity, a touch of bad-ass if needed and a double-dose of cool. He could negotiate, fix, solve and mediate any conflict and, more importantly, keep everyone cool, calm and friendly through the process.

Mr. Preston was a smooth lady-charmer but also garnered much true friendship and respect among the men. He was popular, revered, loved and adored – and although he did enjoy that status, somehow remained so kind, genuinely nice, cheerful and friendly. You see, my dad can have amazing mood swings (based on his epilepsy) and they can be triggered by a lot of things, but Press was his friend through all those decades (even in moments when even I would think, “Man, Pops can curl your naps!”). My dad had so much respect for Mr. Preston. He would never come out and say it, but it was almost like Pops knew that if you get just one friend like that in your lifetime it’s more than enough.  

Later in life, I became Mr. Preston’s teammate, too, and understood why people loved him so. For years in the Lou Settles League (at the then new Spillway), he was energized, funny and the center of attention. If someone made a great spare, Press was there. If you bowled a 300 game, Press was the first to congratulate you and give you a hug. He was always the first to smile, the first to introduce himself and he would always make sure he made it up and down the lanes to share a quick hello, joke or “How ya doing?” to everyone, even if it was his turn to bowl, which drove Pops and Mrs. Gaynell (his wife) nuts. I even caught him one time (in his late 80s) jumping up to see if he could still touch the hanging exit sign, and a complete look of satisfaction when he nailed it first try. When Mrs. Gaynell passed away in 2010 you could see it was a tremendous loss for him but his kindness and spirit never wavered and he still managed to travel up and down the lanes, saying hello with a smile to everyone.

He used to say his own father once told him, “Knucklehead, you won’t live to see 20.” Well, on June 26, 2014, I’m almost certain he arrived and told him, “I almost got five times that!”

– A.J. Woodson, close family friend

Also from A.J. Woodson

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