Longtime Cherokee High School teacher, community volunteer and 2014 Cherokee County First Citizen Joan Underwood McFather, 78, died Sunday. She is being remembered by friends and former colleagues as someone who had a tremendous impact on the community.
“It was such a blessing to have had Joan in my life for almost 50 years,” Canton City Councilwoman JoEllen Wilson said. “She was the most generous, the most brilliant and the most courageous person I’ve ever known. I loved her and already miss her fun-loving spirit and all the wonderful qualities that touched so many lives. She never failed to enhance my life in any way, as well as the lives of everyone she met.”
“I knew her for at least 40 years. She was a very good friend of mine.” Barbara Manous said. “She was a remarkable woman.”
Manous described McFather as trustworthy, intelligent, deeply caring about others, an active member in her church and community and someone who did everything to the best of her ability.
“If you told her something, it went no further,” Manous said.
Cherokee County School District Superintendent Dr. Brian Hightower said, “Throughout her storied career, Joan always exceeded expectations: as a high-quality instructor, an encouraging mentor, a giving volunteer and a trusted colleague. She dedicated herself to preparing every student for future success, and many have reached great heights in our community and far beyond as a result of her care and investment. Every teacher hopes to leave behind a legacy even half as grand as hers.”
Kenny Ott, the Pastor-in-Charge at Canton First United Methodist Church, said he admired how McFather radiated a strong sense of confidence, yet was humble about all she had done at the same time. He described her as dedicated, as he could count on her to be in the church office every Monday morning, gathering up all the prayer requests the church had received before praying over them and then distributing the requests to the several church ministers.
“She was a really good friend who cared about you,” Ott said. “She was a servant, she was an influencer, and she was a caring friend. She is going to be deeply missed.”
Jane Shelnutt said Monday she first met McFather in December 1980, when Shelnutt first began teaching at Cherokee High School. After both had retired, Shelnutt said she joined McFather on a number of trips around the world, visiting approximately 50 countries and all seven continents together, with Shelnutt saying Antarctica was arguably the biggest highlight of their travels. The two were also members in many of the same community organizations and worked together to improve Cherokee County for everyone.
“She was such a special person, someone who only comes along once in a lifetime,” Shelnutt said. “She had so much passion and enthusiasm, it rubbed off on all those around her.”
For 30 years, McFather taught language arts at Cherokee High School before retiring in 2000. Over the course of her career, she served as the language arts department head, was instrumental in implementing the original honors program at the high school level, directed main stage and one-act plays and musicals, and was named STAR Teacher seven times.
A certified Master Gardener, McFather was one of the many University of Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteers of Cherokee County. In this role, McFather wrote a regular column for years, offering up tips and advice for those interested in becoming better gardeners and those looking to develop their green thumb.
Along with teaching high school and educating others with gardening advice, McFather was an active member in a number of community organizations. She was involved with the Etowah Garden Club, a lifetime member of the Canton Jaycettes, a past president of the Service League of Cherokee County and sang with the Cherokee Community Chorale and Canton First United Methodist Church Choir. As a member of the Board of Directors for the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce, she headed up its Teen Leadership Committee in 2013, while also serving with the Court Appointed Special Advocates and the Arts Council.
McFather was also a member of both the Reinhardt University Board of Trustees and the Falany Performing Arts Center Advisory Board. In early 2017, as an expansion project for the performing arts center was underway, McFather donated $75,000 toward the project, which was used to establish the Joan McFather Studio, a flexible space within the building.
In recognition of her many years of service to the community, both as a high school teacher and as an active member in a multitude of community organizations, the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce honored McFather as its annual “First Citizen of Cherokee County” in January of 2014. Some of the many other awards she received throughout her lifetime included the Arts Council Membership Award, the Cherokee County Juvenile Court 10 Years Service Award, the YMCA Character Builder Award, the YMCA Caring About the Community Award and the Rotary Club of Canton’s Lamar Haley Community Service Award.
Visitation for McFather will be 3-8 p.m. Tuesday at Darby Funeral Home, 480 E. Main St., Canton. Funeral services will be 2 p.m. Wednesday at Canton First United Methodist Church, located at 930 Lower Scott Mill Road.