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Remembering Larry McCool

JACKSON — Two years after his lung cancer diagnosis, auctioneer Larry Alan McCool passed away Thursday, Oct. 2 at 1:30 p.m., just hours before he intended to conduct a fund-raising auction for Candlelighters, a children’s cancer fund.

The event, held the first Thursday of every October, went on in his memory with a moment of silence and a short tribute to his life before the event began, said Sam Pooley, president of Candlelighters.

“Winston Tate stepped into his place and did a very good job,” Pooley said of the event. “I’m sure it was very difficult for him.”

Friends and associates throughout the business and nonprofit sectors remember McCool as a successful businessman and tireless champion of charitable organizations.

“Whenever he got involved in an organization, he always wanted to do it well and not go about it halfway,” said Pooley. “He always wanted to make sure the organization did as well as possible.”

Ferrell Tadlock, chairman of the board of directors for HeARTs Against AIDS, said McCool’s death was a great loss to the community as well as his organization.

“There’s nobody to replace him,” said Tadlock. “There may be other auctioneers out there, but there’s nobody out there who’s supported the nonprofits and charitable associations.”

The charity, which makes grants to AIDS support organizations throughout the state, annually raised $50,000+ at the events McCool volunteered to work.

Don Potts, broker associate with Nix-Tann Realtors, said that he and McCool became friends while attending Murrah High School in Jackson. He remembered when McCool still ran an antique shop and first began considering going into the auction business in 1976, after stints as a federal liaison with the Choctaw Indians and a history teacher in Jackson Public Schools.

“He just got him a microphone, and when it was slow, he’d sit there and practice being an auctioneer,” said Potts, who traveled across the Southeast with McCool’s business until 1989.

His national reputation earned him the honor of president of the National Association of Auctioneers this past July.

McCool developed his own style of working a crowd, doing research on the bidders as well as the merchandise and using that information to benefit his clients and bidders, said Robbie Bell, Mississippi Business Journal special projects director and antique aficionado.

“Larry had charisma and energy — an inner fire that radiated out,” said Bell. “When he auctioned things, he brought energy and a lot of humor. Oh, he would pick on people, tease people at auctions to goad them into bidding. Audiences loved that!”

McCool, a nonsmoker, was diagnosed with stage four adenocarcinoma of the lung with liver metastasis in September 2001, said longtime friend and treating oncologist Dr. Ralph Vance of Jackson.

“He woke up one morning and was taking a shower. He coughed, and when he did, he coughed up blood,” Vance said.

Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and radiofrequency ablation to the lung dissipated McCool’s lung tumor, but the toll on his liver became too much this past month, said Vance.

“Over the past three weeks, he had more liver disease. It was a gradual, more insidious course,” Vance said

McCool was convinced that his cancer was related to long-time exposure to tobacco smoke throughout his career — a position Vance said was supported by research.

“Adenocarcinoma is the most common histological cell type for non-smokers. But we don’t know whether the propensity for adenocarcinoma in non-smokers is sidestream smoke. But we suspect it,” said Vance, who becomes national president of the American Cancer Society this fall.

Mary Lee, advertising director for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, said McCool was determined that his struggle could be a warning to other nonsmokers and to the public about the research on secondhand smoke.

“Larry McCool was a tireless proponent of this issue and worked for it even when he probably shouldn’t have,” said Lee, citing his work as honorary chair of the Hinds County chapter of the American Cancer Society.

McCool appeared in two versions of a commercial supporting a ban on smoking in public areas in Mississippi, talking about his bout with cancer that aired throughout the state. He also spoke before a joint legislative session about the need for such a law and testified at one afternoon legislative hearing after a session of chemotherapy that morning, Lee said.

Friends knew he was having a difficult time recently but said he remained upbeat and cheerful throughout.

Potts said McCool’s competitive streak came out when he called McCool in the hospital recently and mentioned a mutual friend they had in Omaha, Neb.

“He said, ‘You just tell Tom I can still beat him in pool!’” Potts remembered.

Lee spoke with McCool the day before he passed away.

“He was in great spirits. Larry never complained. As grim as his original diagnosis was, he fought it with a positive attitude,” Lee said.

“I think he would want to be remembered as someone who loved life and loved people and gave back more than he took,” said Vance. “He was one of a kind.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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