Chuck McRae has never been your average guy.
The attorney who made his way from Pascagoula to the state Supreme Court can’t even catch a pedestrian illness like the rest of us.
One of Mississippi’s most colorful characters, McRae was, in the summer of 2016, enjoying life as always. Good times spent with his family in Hawaii and Mexico, interspersed with road trips on his Harley Davidson, filled his Facebook wall.
McRae can be described as “older,” shall we say, only in the chronological sense. (Don’t ask his age. He’s not talking.)
He has always enjoyed a good time and never been ashamed of it. He is doubtless the only Supreme Court justice in the land to pose in Harley leathers on the cover of a national magazine — Forbes in 2003.
He was having a fine time as always until Labor Day weekend, when he developed a sharp pain in his back, and left hip and knee. The pain finally drove him to St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, where he lives.
Time to act
He had an infection in his left hip, but the doctors were baffled as to what type. They did surgery and eventually sent him home with a tube inserted in his arm to administer heavy-duty antibiotics. At one point, his urinary tract was blocked, so he headed back to the ER. Doctors inserted a catheter.
He rode his bike back home in Bermuda shorts, the catheter rig taped to his leg.
He wasn’t getting well, though. His only child, daughter Rebecca Langston, started in with the research and decided her father needed to get into a Mayo Clinic, but the wait was two months.
“The concern was, if the infection got in my bloodstream, I would die,” he said.
Without telling anyone, McRae climbed on his Harley and drove to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla. He told them he was having chest pains, which was sort of true, so he got admitted through the emergency room.
He had another surgery, cooled his heels in the hospital awhile, then headed back to Mississippi with his daughter driving. They checked into a Ritz-Carlton and had a nice dinner. When he took the pressure stockings off his legs, they swelled up.
So, they called Mayo Clinic and were told to head to the nearest emergency room. McRae was hospitalized in Mobile, Alabama. Relatives from Mobile and the Coast started showing up. His brother and brother’s wife cut short a trip to Poland to be by his side.
“They all thought I was going to die,” McRae said. “I knew what was going on when they all started showing up. No, not going to happen.”
Happiest of endings
Mayo found that the sources of his ills were two rare bacterial infections — Ralstonia and caulobacter, which usually does not occur in humans. He was treated with the right antibiotics and declared well in December, just in time for Christmas at the Dallas home of his daughter and son-in-law, Shane Langston.
The Langstons have five children. They help keep McRae young, splashing around in swimming pools, going on helicopter tours in Hawaii and attending soccer games.
McRae lost his parents as a teenager. He still managed to finish high school as an emancipated adult, and put himself through college and law school.
His daughter and her husband are lawyers, too. They’re a tight-knit family. Rebecca Langston stayed by his side while he was sick. “She was a real trouper,” her father said.
It seemed only fitting their ordeal should end with one of the highlight’s of Chuck McRae’s life.
As the first female president of the Western Trial Lawyers Association, his daughter had the honor in June of presenting her father with the organization’s prestigious Fallout Award for his lifetime of achievements as a trial lawyer. Yes, he practices law out West, too.
McRae’s feeling pretty satisfied these days. And he’s still glowing over the WTLA awards presentation:
“To have (Rebecca) present it to me, that was the height of being a parent and one of my accomplishments to have your daughter, following in your footsteps and doing extremely well,” he said. “ It has been a great life with her. As a parent, I could check out today and be satisfied she could handle most of life's lows.”