South Mississippi Strong: John McFarland works hard and volunteers even harder

South Mississippi Strong: John McFarland works hard and volunteers even harder

GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - There is no offseason for the American Red Cross, and that means there is no offseason for John McFarland in his job as executive director for the Southeast Mississippi Chapter.

“This past year, we had over 90 tornadoes in Mississippi,” he said.

In addition, he is also one of the Coast’s hardest working volunteers, but he’s used to multi-tasking.

“It helps to have a very understanding wife who also works,” McFarland said. “We sadly don’t keep a real schedule. There’s not a fixed dinner time. It’s when somebody gets home to make it.”

Also, his process can keep the chaos at bay.

“I’m a fairly organized person. There’s some notebooks and stuff all over the place all the time and I know where I am on each one of them," he said.

At a time when most people would have hung up their work shoes for flip-flops, McFarland is still reaching out beyond his work station to help make the lives of people better in good times and in bad.

“There’s always the feeling of satisfaction when accomplishing something, but selfishly it was an opportunity to work with some really, really great people,” he said. “And when you can to coalesce and all focus on the same thing, it’s really remarkable thing to be part of.”

After he retired from the media business in 2015, he decided, well, not to retire. He came back to work for the Red Cross, an organization he’s been involved with for most of his life. His dad gave him the start when he was 18.

“He said, ‘I’m going to give blood, and I want you to come with me and drive me home, in case my arm’s hurting.' I should have known better. But when we got there, he signed up and then he signed me up. I said, ‘What for?’ And he said, ‘You’re giving blood, son.’ ”

His involvement continued from there - even while serving in the Army - and again when he began his career at Gulf Publishing Company, but there has been so much more. He became involved with the United Way and the Mississippi Coast Chamber of Commerce. He chaired the tourism partnership after the BP oil spill disaster, and he headed up the annual Salute to the Military program.

All of his work has made an impression on the community, earning him honors such as the Laurel Wreath Award and the Pat Santucci Spirit of the Gulf Coast Award.

“The first three things that come to my mind is loyal, dedicated and committed,” said Luci Willoughby, who has worked with McFarland at the Red Cross for more than a decade.

She said his volunteerism pays dividends with his work.

“John recruits volunteers from all walks of life based off the things that he does and the different organizations that he actually supports,” she said.

McFarland always defers to those who surround him.

“There have been a few of those opportunities to do something that wasn’t easy,” he said. “But knowing that you’re working with the right people, you knew it was going to happen, you just had to be willing to put in the work.”

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