Larry McDonald


Larry Gray McDonald, age 78, of Sylva passed away quietly and peacefully on Dec. 10, 2020, after a hard-fought battle with cancer.

Larry was born on Sept. 22, 1942, to Herman George Burlingame and Marquita Mead in Lansing, Mich. Larry moved to Plant City, Fla., during childhood, where he spent his school age years with his mother and adoptive father, W. Ray McDonald. He later attended Western Carolina University where he pursued a degree in physical education, bringing him to Jackson County.

He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Pamela Watkins McDonald; and his four sons, Gray McDonald, Nicholas (Teresa) McDonald, Brock McDonald and Spencer (Madison) McDonald. He also leaves behind a sister, Susan Miller; and his favorite father-in-law, Eugene Watkins.

Larry was preceded in death by his mother, birth father, adoptive father, and his favorite mother-in-law, Eleanor Watkins.

Larry had a contagious enthusiasm for life and embraced everyone he met with a big hug, smile and most likely a word of wisdom. He was a mountain of a man in every sense, with a big appetite, and even bigger heart. Larry was a true family man. He was a devoted husband, proud father, and was overjoyed to become “Pops” to two grandchildren on the way, Barrett and Andreina. He could tell a joke with the best of them, never missed an opportunity to enjoy a cold one in an oversized mug, and always told people what they meant to him.

Larry had a true passion for being an educator and turned a career into a lifelong legacy, meeting many friends who turned into family throughout the years. His positive impact, as mentor, coach, friend and educator is felt almost immediately when someone mentions “Coach McDonald” or “Larry Mac” and shares a story with a smile.

The family will hold a private service at this time, with plans to have a celebration of life in his honor in the spring. More details to come at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Larry Gray “Mac” McDonald Scholarship at WCU. Checks should be written to WCU Foundation and should have Larry Gray “Mac” McDonald scholarship written in the memo line to ensure that the check goes directly to the scholarship.

WCU Foundation, 1 University Drive. 201 H.F. Robinson Building, Cullowhee, NC 28723.

An online registry is available at

Appalachian Funeral Services of Sylva, N.C., is serving the family.