Augustus Buchanan Purcell, 87 of Laurinburg, passed away peacefully on March 25, 2011 at Scotia Village Retirement Community in Laurinburg.
He was born Nov. 25, 1923 in Winston-Salem to Charles Augustus Purcell and Anna Meta Buchanan Purcell. He grew up in Laurinburg during the Great Depression. He graduated from Laurinburg High School in June, 1942 where he played football, baseball and basketball and was voted “Most Popular” by the senior class. He held a number of jobs in Laurinburg during his high school years, including working at Belk’s Department Store on Main Street and surveying land in Scotland County. He was working as a “soda jerk” at the Laurinburg Drug Store when news reached Laurinburg of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
After graduating from high school he entered UNC Chapel Hill and completed the fall quarter before attempting to enlist in the Marine Corps. Although he was rejected by the Marines because of his eyesight, a Marine Sergeant called him to the side and said if he really wanted to serve with the Marines there was a way he could do it even with poor eyesight. The Sergeant suggested that Mr. Purcell join the Navy and enlist in its Medical Corps as a Pharmacist’s Mate. Since the Marines did not have their own medical corps, they relied on the Navy to provide medics. Mr. Purcell then enlisted in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps, and after completing medical training at Bethesda, Md., was sent to California and then to the Pacific Theater where he served as a Corpsman with Marine Fighter Squadron VMF 314, stationed on various islands, including Okinawa. He returned home in 1946 after serving more than three years as a Corpsman alongside the Marines.
He enrolled back at UNC Chapel Hill in March 1946 and made the football squad at Carolina later that fall. He played on several Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice era teams and earned a football letter and a trip with the team to the 1949 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. While at UNC he joined Sigma Chi fraternity and also met his future wife Bonnie Richardson Thrash of Asheville, NC. They were married in Asheville on March 18, 1949 and after a hair-raising honeymoon trip over snow-covered mountains to Gatlinburg, Tenn. returned back to Chapel Hill, where they lived until he completed a Master’s Degree in Education in 1951.
His first and only job as teacher and coach was at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, NC. He was there for its opening year in 1951 and remained there until he retired in 1980. He coached several sports at Myers Park but was most noted for starting and developing a successful, winning football program. His 1965 team went undefeated and shared the state 4A championship. He maintained enduring friendships over the years with many former players and associates, a number of whom achieved success at the college and pro level. He coached the West squad in the North Carolina East/West High School All Star Game in 1959 and coached North Carolina in the 1960 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas in Charlotte. In 1966 he received the Sportsman of the Year award presented by The Sportsman Club of Charlotte. He was inducted into the NC High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1995. The football stadium at Myers Park High School was named in his honor at a dedication ceremony at halftime on Sept. 9, 2005.
He was also involved in many entrepreneurial ventures in Charlotte including the Gus Purcell Day Camp, the Gus Purcell Quarterback School, and the Gus Purcell Bar-B-Que and Fish Camp. The Gus Purcell Day Camp was eventually sold to the YMCA and operates today as a Y in southeast Charlotte. The Gus Purcell Quarterback School was sold years ago but continues to operate under his name. After retiring from teaching, he remained in Charlotte and worked for Harris Teeter for six years and for Park Meridian Bank for eight years.
He was an avid golfer with his wife Bonnie, and after retiring from Park Meridian Bank, moved from Charlotte to the Deercroft Golf Club community near Wagram where they both played often and hosted the annual Purcell Family Golf Tournament for many years.
He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Bonnie Purcell of Laurinburg; son Gary Purcell and his wife Beth of Holly Springs, NC; daughter Lucy Sojka and her husband Nick of Laurinburg; grandchildren John Purcell, Andrea Purcell and Ashley Purcell of Charlotte and Eleanor Sojka and Joe Sojka of Laurinburg; sister Elizabeth Newton of Alpharetta, Ga.; brother Edwin Purcell and his wife Tink of Clinton; brother Sen. William Purcell and his wife Kathleen of Laurinburg,; sister-in-law Joyce Purcell of Kernersville, NC, wife of his late brother Archie Purcell of Fayetteville, NC; 13 nieces and nephews; and 28 great-nieces and nephews. In addition to his brother Archie, he was preceded in death by his son Jim Purcell of Hickory, NC.
The family will receive friends at McDougald Funeral Home in Laurinburg from 6-8 p.m. on Monday, March 28. Burial with military rites will be held at Hillside Cemetery at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, March 29. A memorial service to celebrate his life will be held at Laurinburg Presbyterian Church at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to Laurinburg Presbyterian Church, Church Community Services, 108 South Gill Street, Laurinburg, NC 28352 or the charity of your choice.
Funeral arrangements by McDougald Funeral Home, 305 E. Church Street, Laurinburg, NC 28352.