Nimrod “Mac” McNair Jr., 93: Combat pilot in 3 wars taught faith, ethics

Sept 14, 2017
Ret. Col. Nimrod “Mac” McNair Jr. with his wife, Delysia Ashwood McNair.

Mac McNair had high-flying dreams from childhood, having followed Charles Lindbergh’s rise to worldwide fame as pilot of the first non-stop flight from the U.S. to mainland Europe.

And fly he did.

McNair was shot down twice and survived four crashes as a fighter pilot on 110 combat missions in World War II and Vietnam.

“He loved his family,” his wife, Delysia Ashwood McNair, said. “But flying was his passion – that and the Lord.”

Ret. Col. Nimrod “Mac” McNair Jr., veteran of four military conflicts, recipient of the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, management consultant and one-time gubernatorial candidate, died Tuesday in Stone Mountain. He was 93.

A public visitation will be Sept. 22 from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. at Tom M. Wages Funeral Home, 3705 U.S. 78 West in Snellville. A private family service with full military honors will follow at 1 p.m. at North Georgia National Cemetery in Canton.

Born Nov. 2, 1923 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., McNair joined the Army Air Force in 1942 after the attack on Pearl Harbor and quickly learned to fly. He logged 600 combat hours in the air in a military career that ran to 1972 and included service in the Korean War and top-secret Cold War assignments.

He was shot down twice, once accidentally by the Brits, and once during the Battle of the Bulge. Fifty years later, McNair described being sent in December 1944 to Belgium to retrieve a P-38 stranded in Luxembourg. “We drove right through the German assault and didn’t know it was there,” McNair recounted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1994. He took off the day after Christmas, was shot up by the Germans and crash-landed in Liege, Belgium.

As a child, McNair had a speech impediment and a vision problem, both of which he credited one of his teachers with helping him to overcome.

He skipped three grades in school, was very smart and had a photographic memory, daughter Jan Bradd said.

Those traits proved beneficial throughout life and when he returned to school, receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and his master’s in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

He also studied contemporary religion for three years at the Virginia Theological Seminary. .

McNair went on to jobs as professor of aeronautical engineering at North Carolina State University, director of the aerospace program in the Pentagon, Air Force advisor to NASA and combat advisor in Vietnam.

He also authored three books, owned a management consulting firm and founded the Executive Leadership Foundation, a nonprofit promoting ethics based on Judeo-Christian values.

In 1994, McNair jumped in a crowded race for Georgia governor and ruffled some Republican feathers by making character an issue. He challenged his four GOP opponents to withdraw and make way for “the only qualified candidate” capable of beating incumbent Gov. Zell Miller. None of his opponents took the challenge, and he lost in the Republican primary.

McNair, who was raised a Baptist, rededicated himself to God after daughter Jan asked him at age 10 “what it means to be a Christian.

“He’d always been a good man,” his daughter said. “Searching for himself, he made the decision to turn his life over to God. And from that point on, he really had a changed life.”

Through the Executive Leadership Foundation, McNair had opportunities to speak around the world about his faith and about ethics in business based on the Ten Commandments. He sometimes shared the stage with the late Amy “Ernie” Phillips McNair, his high school sweetheart and wife of 63 years.

“He was such a kind, loving and very engaging person,” daughter Jan said. “Everybody loved him.”

In Vietnam, he helped establish a church that was attracting so many participants the Rev. Billy Graham flew across the globe to see it.

McNair chronicled some of his encounters in the military with notables including Gen. George Patton, British royalty and Anwar Sadat, future president of Egypt, in his books, speeches and a series of YouTube videos.

He received numerous military decorations and his academic honors included membership in the National Honor Society and Phil Eta Sigma. His alma mater, the University of Alabama, paid tribute to him during halftime at a football game.

In 2008, he married second wife, Delysia Ashwood, a widow who lived in the same retirement community.

McNair had started a Tuesday fellowship meeting in the community for people to share their faith, she said.

The two traveled extensively, including to her native Australia and to his international speaking engagements, she said.

His survivors also include his brother, William; his daughter, Jan Bradd; his son, John McNair; several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.