Doc McPherson, 1918-2014
One of worst parts about this job — probably the worst — is writing posts like this. Obituaries are bad enough, but how do you sum someone up in 300 words in phrases optimized for Google’s search robots?
You can’t, and especially when it’s someone like Doc McPherson, the retired Texas Tech chemistry professor, World War II bomber navigator, Peace Corps instructor, and one of the three or four people who made the Texas wine industry possible. So I’ll just write, and Google be damned. More, after the jump:
Doc died Saturday in Lubbock, and he is not only survived by his wife, his three sons, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but by stories — lots and lots of stories. There are the ones I’ve heard, usually told by his son Kim over a glass or three: About The Vine, of course, that first, mythical grapevine that had appeared mysteriously in a Texas Tech field in the early 1960s. Doc and his buddy, horticultural professor Robert Reed, transplanted the vine to Reed’s pato, where it produced what might have been the first professional Texas wine since Prohibition — made with what they called patio grapes, because no one knew what had originally been planted.
Or the one about Doc, now retired, driving each day to his Sagmor vineyard to check and prune and watch the grapes, armed with lunch and the Thermos that his wife Clara packed. Or how he and Reed started Llano Estacado, today the biggest winery in the state, with a check from Texas Tech because their chemistry department wine lab had been stinking up the building.
But there were many I had not heard — that his given name was Clinton. Even Kim called him Doc. Or his World War II Army Air Corps service in a B-24 in Burma, which was as dangerous a place to fly as it was little known, then and now. And teaching Peace Corps volunteers at Tech, which must have been almost surreal 50 years ago.
In all of this, one thing shines through — that Doc’s life was about making a difference, and that he knew he had to participate in life to make a difference, whether navigating an airplane under fire or opening a winery in 1960s Baptist Texas. A full and complete life is not about telling people what can’t be done or that the world must always stay the same; it’s about understanding that change is part of life, and Doc understood. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like, five decades ago, to convince a west Texas cotton farmer to grow wine grapes. It’s not easy, even today, and we have many and better arguments than Doc did then. But that didn’t deter him.
His legacy is in every bottle of Texas wine we drink, and there are few better than that.