William “Mack” Rush Jr., a stalwart community leader who devoted his life to enhancing the Frenchtown neighborhood and was the driving force in obtaining historical status for the Lincoln Center, died of natural causes April 29.
Rush was affectionately known to his family and friends as “Mack.” The Tallahassee native was born Feb. 4, 1947, to Leila and William McKinley Rush Sr. and grew up in the Bond neighborhood.
A graduate of both Tallahassee flagship universities, Rush received his bachelor’s degree in business at Florida A&M University and a master’s degree in interior design at Florida State.
He distinguished himself in college as editor-in-chief of the FAMUan, FAMU’s student-run newspaper, and was the first black graduate of FSU to earn certification by the National Council for Interior Design.
But it was love of his high school, Tallahassee’s segregated Lincoln High, that prompted Rush to preserve its history. The school, located at 438 W. Brevard St., opened in 1869 and closed in 1969, four years after Mack graduated in ‘65.
In 2009, Rush applied to the Florida Department of State to register the Lincoln Center as a nationally recognized historical place. That proposal included an outline for the Lincoln Room, a mini-museum within the center. Countless pictures, an old May Day Festival gown, and an original Lincoln High School sign are among the items enclosed in the museum’s wooden interior.
A rich history:
“This is what Mack pulled together,” said family friend Brenda H. Hawkins. “For each (graduating) class we tried to tell them to give us any memories, artifacts, pictures.”
Willie Ellis and Rush grew up on the same street in the Bond neighborhood. They became friends, and both were members of the L Club, a group of former Old Lincoln High athletes.
“I guess everyone’s kind of special,” Ellis said. “Mack, whether it was through technology or photography, always took the lead, which everyone else was kind of glad (about) because we didn’t know what the heck we would’ve been doing.”
The idea of the Lincoln Room grew from dinners held in honor of one of the last living coaches at the school.
“It’s just keeping the memory of our high school alive,” Ellis said. “We’re trying to keep it from dying. That’s the sole reason for the Lincoln Room.”
Friends described Rush as a quiet, forceful leader whose attention to detail and love for the human experience moved him to accomplish many things in his lifetime. He retired from the city of Tallahassee where he worked on community development projects.
His son, Omari Rush, said one thing he remembered most about his father was his keen focus and production of good design work.
“He always found a way to do things the right way and he really loved doing things with his hands,” Omari Rush said. “Growing up there was always a joy in his attention to detail. He was always a kind of jack-of-all-trades. He was very curious about life and the world.”
Rush was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, his son said, “in part because of who he was and in part because of the role he played on FAMU’s campus.”
“His dad was actually nervous for him and about him being so vocal,” Omari recalled. “(My dad) just felt like he needed to be involved.”
Photography was a love of Rush’s. He spent years capturing nature, be it mountains, plants or pecans. He dedicated time at Lincoln Center to teaching photography classes in the Lincoln Room museum. Whenever there was an event, Rush was there with his camera.
Faydre Hawkins-Brown, supervisor of the Lincoln Center, met Rush a year ago. He served as one of her mentors in his last months. The Friday before his passing, he was in her office.
“He was a big proponent of us getting Wi-Fi and wiring throughout the gymnasium,” Hawkins-Brown said. “I only knew what to say to (the electricians), in terms of what I wanted, because of him. It’s minimal to some people, but I know that was big for him because it was something he wanted to see.”
More than 20 years ago, he joined the board for Refuge House, Tallahassee’s shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence. He also worked with Lee’s Place, a nonprofit grief counseling center in Tallahassee. In his May 9 memorial, longtime friend Jeanne Kimball praised his commitment to the community.
“Like lots of nonprofit organizations, Lee’s Place depends on volunteers. Whenever a request was sent out, Mack was first to step up to the table,” said Kimball, who recruited him to join the Refuge House board. “When it came to working in the yard, whether it was August or January, if Mack were in town, he responded with a ‘yes.’”
Rush was preceded in death by his wife Theresa Rush in 2012 and is survived by son, Omari, his daughters Dionne Holloman (Tanner) and Keena Mosley (Dino); sisters Lynette Darity, Brenda Smith, and Pam Davis (Fred); and four grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
A second memorial service in his honor was to be held at the Lincoln Center on Sunday.
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