As a poor boy working hard on a farm during the Great Depression and the lean years that followed, Windell McCrackin vowed not to be a farmer.
“I determined at 10 years of age that if I could, I would make my living some other way because it was such hard work,” he said.
He was still 10 when he was studying about “our great founding fathers” at school and decided to be a lawyer.
At 85, McCrackin is now the senior practicing lawyer in Horry County, and the only farming he does is in his garden at his Myrtle Beach home. “My vegetable garden is my hobby,” he said. “I can walk out of it and sit down and relax in my lawn chair.”
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That was not an option while he was growing up in the Cedar Creek area of Horry County, the youngest of seven children striving to help their parents make a living off the land.
By today’s absentee standards, he could not have reached his goal because farm work took precedence over school, and he was absent about one third of the time. But he studied and kept up, and in 1946, graduated from Floyds High School, which no longer exists.
“My parents didn’t have any money to send us to college with, so as soon as I finished high school, I went into service to get the GI Bill,” McCrackin said.
He jokes about being in the “Remington Raiders” while he was a Marine. He was a payroll clerk, and Remington was one of the three brands of typewriters he used.
When he first met his wife, Johann Mishoe McCrackin, he used that “Remington Raiders” line. “I thought he was talking about a crack rifle squad,” said Johann, a former teacher and guidance counselor with Horry County Schools.
He quickly let her know that he was joking, and about 60 years later, they still laugh about it. “I had to do something to get her attention; my looks didn’t demand it,” he said.
After serving in the Marines, he went to Wofford College, where he was in the Reserve officers Training Corps (ROTC). After graduating from college, he went into the Army.
On Christmas Day in 1952, he was on the 38th Parallel dividing North and South Korea. The fighting was at a stalemate, he said, with the enemy dug in one side of a ridge and his regiment dug in on the opposite side. He walked the regimental line with his commander, judging the Christmas decorations the soldiers had used to decorate their bunkers. “They used whatever they could find. It’s interesting what GIs could come up with,” he said.
When he got out of the Army, he attended law school at the University of South Carolina, got his degree in 1955, and served in the Army Reserves until 1962.
While In law school, he met Johann, a Conway native who was attending the University of South Carolina.
Windell McCrackin worked at the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C., and then as a law clerk for a federal judge in Florence before starting his practice in Myrtle Beach and marrying Johann in 1957.
On Thanksgiving Day, Windell and Johann were married by the late Dr. Cecil Brearley at the First Presbyterian Church of Myrtle Beach after he had preached his Thanksgiving sermon. They couldn’t afford a big wedding. There were no guests, and their only flowers were the ones already there. But they did pay the preacher.
“Dr. Brearley gave us our money back for a wedding present,” Johann said. “I think he thought we needed it more than he did.”
They’re still members of the church, where the late Dr. Brearley’s grandson, Dr. John Brearley, is now pastor.
Windell and Johann have three children and four grandchildren. Their sons, Sidney McCrackin and James McCrackin, are attorneys. Mary Ann McCrackin is a veterinarian.
Windell McCrackin’s numerous notable court cases include the “comma case” that was decided by the S.C. Supreme court in his client’s favor in 1971 after an Horry County judge had ruled against him.
The case rested on the placement of a comma in the contract between his client, who was a builder, and a homeowner challenging the builder’s right to receive a 10 percent fee above the actual cost of $34,500 for building their home. “I just used the English handbook,” he said. “Punctuation is nothing more than writing road signs, and this was set off with a comma.”
In 1964, he represented a private nurse who had not been paid after caring for President Lyndon Johnson’s brother, Sam Houston Johnson, while he was in a Myrtle Beach hospital.
Soon after McCrackin wrote to Sam Houston Johnson requesting payment, the local chairman of the Democrat Party called him and took her money to him.
Windell McCrackin, who has always been active in the S.C. Bar Association, is also a longtime member of other organizations, including the 40 and 8 Veterans Association and American Legion Post 40 in Myrtle Beach.
He says he doesn’t know if he will be working much longer, but he might try to make it to 60 years of practicing law.
“I’m just working as long as I feel like I can enjoy doing it,” he said.