John McKibbin was a visionary and a man of action

John McDonagh

I’ll miss being called, “Johnny McD.”

I think I was maybe 10 years old when I no longer was referred to as “Johnny” – with the exception of my mother and my older sister. For them, that’s just who I was. Then there was my high school vice principal and track coach. If being vice principal and coach wasn’t reason enough to allow it, he was also 6’ 2” and tipped the scales at more than 250 pounds – he could call me whatever he wanted.

Since then, there have been a couple of folks for whom “Johnny” was their default moniker for me. To me, it felt like a nod of affection. That was certainly the sense I got from John McKibbin, when he would reach his hand out to shake mine with a wide grin and a hearty, “Hi, Johnny McD.”

Our first meeting goes back to when John was on the Board of County Commissioners and I was a member of the Clark County Fair Board, nearly 40 years ago.

Over the last four decades, regardless of what John was involved with, we always seemed to have a “need to talk,” as John would put it.

John had tremendous vision for this county and wasn’t bashful about advancing what he believed would be the best path forward. Speaker after speaker at the candlelight vigil held in his memory last weekend referred to their experience with John’s need to talk, usually over coffee. They described how, when they sat down with him, it seemed as though they surely were the only person with whom he spent that much time with or had that kind of talk. It was personal and impassioned, and if their chats were anything like the ones I had with John, there was always something for us to do as a result. Maybe that was his early years of experience as a teacher, always making sure there was a homework assignment.

The hole we feel when someone we care about dies is instant and unfillable. When that hole is felt community-wide, it is that much deeper. As we all adjust to John’s passing, I am reminded of what the candlelight vigil speakers referred to as his relentlessly positive and aggressive attitude. When John identified something as being important to the community, he went after it like it would happen – it was just a matter of timing.

For the last couple of years, John was leading the efforts of Identity Clark County. In his uniquely relentless manner, he recognized that ICC needed a new focus, and he helped them find it in: advancing education as one of our region’s strongest assets; aviation and aeronautic education tied to the historic Pearson Field; and the need for leadership locally around infrastructure – especially transportation and freight mobility.

John McKibbin was not only a visionary, but a man of action – two characteristics that are not always found in the same person. Specifically, these are the characteristics that make the “hole in the community” due to his passing that much greater. We’ll morn for a while, as we should. Then, as a community, we need to embrace that relentless and aggressive positive attitude toward our vision – a vision we need to see as clearly as John saw his.

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