Brandon McClung was “set free of his pain and his braces” on April 7, 2019. That was the lead sentence of the obituary for our 39-year-old colleague, who took his life on a Sunday afternoon at his home in Charlotte. Our hearts hurt terribly that our good friend, who had worked at Sports Business Journal since 2005, is gone.
The first thing his father told me in an emotional conversation the morning after was, “He loved all of you. He loved his job.” That’s how everyone felt about Brandon, one of the kindest and gentlest people you could ever meet.
Brandon was born with spina bifida, a devastating condition that made his life so difficult. He worked in our Charlotte office as a key research associate tirelessly for 14 years — at his desk daily by 7:30 a.m. and staying late. We all saw how the simple things in life that most of us take for granted were a challenge for Brandon. And though he faced those challenges with remarkable courage and without complaint, the heartbreaking part is that, as he told some of those closest to him, he knew the physical challenges he faced would only get worse and make it more difficult to care for himself. That surely discouraged and clouded the long-term outlook of this fiercely independent young man.
And was Brandon ever independent. He grew up in West Virginia, where his grandfathers and father worked in the coal mines. He was the first member of his immediate family to go to college, and after he received his master’s degree in Sports Administration at West Virginia University, he came to Charlotte, bought his own car and began his career. I’ll never forget the pride in his sweet, soulful brown eyes when he told me three years ago he had put in an offer on a home. He was so happy and excited.
Brandon refused to let his physical difficulties affect the way he was treated. He didn’t want you to hold a door open for him. He didn’t want you to slow down or wait for him. “Go ahead,” he would signal with a wave. He’d meet you. And he never, ever complained, even though you knew there were so many days when he felt terrible and was dealing with consistent, significant pain. Every day he faced down spina bifida, and any day you were feeling sorry for yourself, all you had to do was look at Brandon and how he faced his barriers with hard work and courage, all while maintaining such kindness, humor and an easy nature. That would change your outlook pretty quickly.
Brandon was always rooted in the right values — love of his family, his home state of West Virginia and the Mountaineers, and especially sports. He knew his sports. Boy, he could rattle off facts, figures and which college each starter in any league attended. But working at Sports Business Journal wasn’t enough for Brandon. He would leave the office and go handle stats for a variety of University of North Carolina-Charlotte sports teams, including football, basketball and baseball, as well as the Class AAA Charlotte Knights and, on Sundays in the fall, the Carolina Panthers. We all marveled at his work ethic and excitement at being around competition. After a long week, I’d ask him, “Don’t you want some time off?” He’d quickly shake his head and exclaim, “I love it!” He truly did.
We will miss Brandon. We look at his cube and dearly wish he was gathering data and analyzing his Excel files. We really wish we could hear his gentle laugh and see his face get red and his eyes well up after a funny story. We truly wish we were with him on that last Sunday. We wish we could have helped our friend.
Our friend, Brandon, is set free of his pain and his braces. But the legacy of his life, courage and kindness will live in our hearts and at SBJ for many years to come.
Abraham Madkour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.