Director Emerita of JSU Learning Services Claudia McDade dies of COVID-19

Claudia McDade walks across the stage to receive her Emeriti Faculty award from JSU President William Meehan on Dec. 19, 2008. (Steve Latham/JSU)Claudia McDade walks across the stage to receive her Emeriti Faculty award from JSU President William Meehan on Dec. 19, 2008. (Steve Latham/JSU)

Logan Irwin, Correspondent

Claudia McDade, who served as the director emerita of JSU Learning Services, died on Tuesday, Oct. 13, after battling COVID-19.

McDade arrived at Jacksonville State University in 1974, and began her career here as a psychology professor. She was 24 at the time, and had just received her PhD from Louisiana State.

Unknowingly, McDade had dyslexia that would follow her into her years of graduate school.

Student Reporter Buffy Smith, now JSU Director of Public Relations Buffy Lockette, interviewed McDade in 1998 about her ongoing medical condition. 

“I knew that I learned differently so I had to work harder than the rest of the kids,” said McDade. “My mother used to make me turn the lights out in my bedroom at midnight, so I would go lay beside the bottom of the refrigerator and study all night, because that was the only light I could find.”

McDade also worked to become an advocate for students on campus with learning disabilities. She helped to establish the Academic Center for Excellence, better known as Ace Tutoring Services, in the year 1980, and founded the ExSel program, now called the Fast Start Academy, for students that needed extra help during the summer before college.

Despite her learning disability, McDade went on to receive the the Outstanding Developmental Educator of the Year award in 1988, and would go on to receive countless other honors including the USA Group/Noel-Levitz Retention Excellence Award, Jacksonville State’s Outstanding Faculty Award and the Outstanding Educator Award from the Women Committed to Excellence Program. 

“I can’t even separate who I am apart from her,” said Courtney Peppers, who worked under McDade for about a decade and now serves as the director of learning services. “She became my mentor when I was 22 years old and she continued to be for 20 years.”

Peppers said she began her work for McDade as a student worker during her undergraduate years, and that she often sought McDade’s advice and guidance.

“When I experienced success, accomplishments, and joyful times, I celebrated them with her,” said Peppers.

Peppers went on to say that she knew the “value of teaching women leadership skills” and that McDade instilled in her the importance of mentoring youth.

“Dr. McDade cared about students,” said Peppers. “She put them first, and it showed in her leadership … She would work to find an answer for a student, no matter the situation, and she taught me that it was important to put forth the extra effort to help students in any way possible.”

“My hope is to continue her legacy and pass it on to future generations of women leaders,” said Peppers.

McDade retired in 2008 and moved to Fort Morgan, Ala.

A memorial for McDade will be held on Oct. 29 at 2 p.m. in the Holy Spirit Episcocal Church of Gulf Shores. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to Chrisitian Service Center, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Warrior Bonfire Program or the JSU Foundation in Memory of Claudia McDade (Precision Learning Institute).

UPDATED: Oct. 27, 3:06 p.m. — Included additional comments from Courtney Peppers.

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