Robert McLendon Obituary, Death – St. Johns River State College is mourning the loss of former President Robert McLendon who was a driving force in growing the college from a small, rural outpost to the dynamic, three-county institution it is today.
McLendon, 84, passed away on April 26 after a life dedicated to education and his community. McLendon, SJR State’s third president, served as for 36 years and retired in 2008 as the most senior president in the community college system. The college’s main Palatka campus is named in his honor.
Affectionately known as “Dr. Bob” to friends and colleagues, McLendon was appointed president in 1972 and soon after received state appropriations needed to add a second location in Orange Park. But McLendon didn’t stop there — during his tenure, he grew the college from one to three campuses serving Putnam, Clay and St. Johns counties.
Current President Joseph Pickens said McLendon’s legacy could not be overestimated. “He had a vision for the college that developed over four decades,” Pickens said in a phone interview with The Record Thursday. “He shaped it in the way he thought it needed to be shaped.”
Some of the other improvements made under McLendon’s leadership include the $21-million Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts in 2004 and the $12-million, two-story health-sciences facility in 2008. McLendon’s vision for St. Johns County included the St. Augustine campus in 1996, the criminal justice center in 2003 and a new health-sciences facility in 2010.
Pickens knew McLendon not only as a mentor but as a friend. Pickens’ father, Robert, served on SJR State’s board of directors and was extremely close with the family; McLendon even delivered Pickens’ father’s eulogy when he died in 1994.
“He was consistent, remarkably loyal and truly larger than life,” said Pickens.
When McLendon retired in 2008 and turned the reins over to Pickens, Pickens recalled the words of his predecessor.
“Doc told me himself on his last day as president, ‘Joe, this college is in great shape; it will run itself for years if you just don’t screw it up!'” Pickens said. “My biggest hope is that I haven’t.”
McLendon was very active in the local community and was past president of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce and the Palatka Rotary Club. He was the longtime chairman of the Capital City Bank of Palatka and served two terms as chairman of the North Central Florida Health Planning Council.
His many awards include being named a distinguished alumnus of The Florida State University, a fellow of Phi Theta Kappa and a Paul Harris Fellow in Rotary. He received the James L. Wattenbarger Award, the highest honor from the Florida College System Council of Presidents.
McLendon is survived by his wife, Vivian Oliver McLendon; their children, Lucie McLendon Little (Larry), Laura McLendon Beckler (Craig) and Matthew Dekle McLendon (Townes Coates), former son-in-law Greg Odom, as well as four grandchildren, Gage and Stella Odom, and Joannah and Caleb Beckler.
A visitation is scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday with the funeral service taking place at 3 p.m. at Johnson-Overturf Funeral Home in Palatka.