LAUREL HILL — The bell in the Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church steeple tolled Tuesday afternoon as C. McDonald Campbell visited her beloved church home for the last time. The community’s oldest resident, she had died earlier that day.


“Miss Mac,” as all who were close to her knew her, was three months shy of her 106th birthday when she slipped quietly away in the same home in which she had been born on July 27, 1914, to A. Daniel and Christian McDonald Campbell.


A woman of forethought, she planned — and paid for — her funeral 30 years ago, and wrote her own obituary. The farewell drive-by past her church was among the arrangements Miss Mac made. The tolling bell was a touch added by her pastor, the Rev. Mark Broadhead.


She was named after her mother, a school teacher, who home schooled Miss Mac and her sister, Annie Bell, until the latter’s childhood death from heart disease. After fifth grade, Miss Mac continued her education at Laurel Hill School until it burned down in 1931. She then finished high school at Palmer Academy in DeFuniak Springs.


Following her mother’s profession, Miss Mac graduated from Palmer College, a junior college also in DeFuniak Springs. She received her bachelor’s degree in education at Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee, today known as Florida State University, from which she received her master’s in education in 1952.


TEACHING CAREER


In 1935, Miss Mac started her teaching career at her alma mater, Laurel Hill School. A few years later, she bought her first car, a Ford sedan — stick shift, of course — and made monthly payments of about $40.


“The Great Depression was with us, and we teachers made $75 a month for working eight months a year,” Miss Mac said during an interview on her 99th birthday — the year she reluctantly stopped driving herself to church and around town “just to keep an eye on things.”


During her career, she taught in several Panhandle towns, including Pensacola, Marianna and Crestview, pausing to serve as a statistical clerk at Eglin Field (now Eglin Air Force Base) during World War II.


“She was keeping track of bombs dropped and how close they came to their targets,” her cousin and family historian, Mark Curenton, said.


Upon the death of Miss Mac’s father in 1952, she ran the dry goods side of Campbell Company, the family’s Laurel Hill general store, for a short while before resuming teaching.


“She was teaching at Crestview High when the school burned in December 1953, just before the Christmas holidays,” Curenton said. “McDonald told me that she had accidently left her coat in the school and it burned up in the fire.”


Returning to Laurel Hill School, Miss Mac taught seventh through 11th grades, then helped establish the school's library, serving as the current school’s first librarian before her retirement in the 1970s.


“I started at Laurel Hill and I ended at Laurel Hill,” she said of her teaching career.


She survived brain surgery to have a tumor removed on Dec. 1, 1964, first making arrangements to put her ill mother in the hospital in Florala while McDonald recovered.


“Aunt Christian never did get out of the hospital,” Curenton said. “She died before McDonald recovered enough to bring her home again and take care of her.”


Having not been physically able to give her mother a proper funeral always weighed heavily on her mind, so a few years ago, she held a graveside memorial service at Almarante Cemetery outside Laurel Hill. Saturday, Miss Mac will be laid to rest next to her mother, her grave slab already bought, paid for, engraved and installed.


A WOMAN OF GOD


Miss Mac’s biggest love was her Lord, her church and church family at Laurel Hill Presbyterian, where she was a Sunday school teacher, pianist, elder, Presbyterian Women moderator, and clerk of Session for many years. She was appointed clerk emerita in the mid 2010s.


“She also taught my sister Tracy and me in communicants’ class before we joined the church,” Curenton said.


One of her dear church friends in her later years was Edna Gella, with whom she shared a pew in the rear of the sanctuary. Miss Edna was mother of Laurel Hill environmental engineer and retired university professor Dennis Mitchell, who remembered his mom’s friend fondly from church socials.


“Miss McDonald was a one of a kind and will be missed by so many who admired her,” Mitchell said. “My mom always called her ‘my friend.’ We knew right away who she was talking about.”


Though she didn’t make it to church very often in her final years, that didn’t stop church from coming to visit Miss Mac. Sunday school met regularly in her dining room after morning services, and at least once a year, the whole congregation packed into her parlour for a worship service.


Hymns and other music were played on a small, portable 1920s foot-pumped “missionary organ” that was new when McDonald Campbell was already a regular at the Presbyterian Church.


Though most of her life was spent in Northwest Florida, Miss Mac also traveled in Europe and Asia, and kept up to date with world and local events through newspapers.


In 2000, she was honored as Laurel Hill’s Citizen of the Year. She is survived by many dear friends and cousins.


Though one of Okaloosa County’s oldest residents — a county two years younger than she was, having been born in then-Walton County — she proudly beat the nursing home at least five times, returning back to her own house after recuperating from occasional brief illnesses and at least one fall.


“Home is home,” she said during the 2013 interview. "When you've lived in one house all your life, you feel an attachment. It's part of you."


Miss Mac has gone home.


SERVICES FOR McDONALD CAMPBELL


A small graveside service for church members, former caregivers or close friends is scheduled for 2 p.m. April 18 at Almarante Cemetery. Appropriate social distancing will be observed.


“In the near future when the COVID–19 restrictions have been lifted, we will gather in the sanctuary of Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church on a date to be determined to worship God, and together – as a church family and Laurel Hill community – remember the wonderful gift McDonald was to so many people,” the Rev. Mark Broadhead said.