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A life of many skills, thrills

Published Oct. 8, 2005

The Rev. James A. McClure brought his wife and seven of his nine children from Petersburg, Va., to St. Petersburg in 1924, answering the call to serve as pastor at First Presbyterian Church.

Although daughter Peggy was at the University of Virginia and son John was at Tulane University, the church's manse at 122 Eighth Ave. N was still not quite big enough for the family.

Jim McClure Jr. remembers that a congregation member built a large room upstairs in the manse. And a small bedroom was converted into a study for his father.

Jim McClure and his brother Tom shared a sleeping porch. "John, who was about four or five years older, had a room right over the kitchen," when he was home from college.

He remembers that on Sundays the entire family filed into the church, then at 332 Third St. N, with no objections from anyone. Their father served as the church's pastor until 1947.

During the summers, the McClure children went to their grandfather's farm in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, property that a nephew bought out of the estate and still owns. "I milked seven cows in the morning and seven cows at night every day," Jim McClure said. The cream was sold, and the skim milk was given to the pigs. To this day, McClure disdains skim milk as "pig milk."

There was only one thing that made it difficult to come back to St. Petersburg in the fall, McClure said. "We had to put shoes on to go to school," he said. "We'd been barefoot all summer."

McClure has happy memories of taking the trolley car to the Jungle area, renting a rowboat and spending the weekend camping on Treasure Island with friends.

"There wasn't a building on the whole beach," he said.

At St. Petersburg High, McClure tried out for the swim team, "but the coach was smart enough to realize that I wasn't fast enough to be on the team. So he made me the manager." McClure said.

Through high school, St. Petersburg Junior College and Washington and Lee University and law school, McClure had a variety of summer jobs. He was a soda jerk at a drug store at Second Street and Seventh Avenue N, and a gas pump jockey at a Shell station at Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue N.

"My dad really didn't want me to take that job, because they only wanted me to work on Sunday and he didn't want me to work on Sunday," he said. However, his parents went to Israel that summer, and the gas station job paid twice as much as his previous job. He took it.

Probably his most unusual job was selling silk stockings door to door. He talked his friend Ed Turville into selling stockings too. Then he talked him into going to Washington and Lee University with him.

After graduation, McClure went to work for the law firm of Bussey, Mann and Barton. When World War II came along, he served in the Coast Guard and came back to St. Petersburg to start a law practice with Turville.

"I didn't get a single telephone call the first month I had my office," McClure said.

He decided people didn't know he was back home. Running for the state Legislature, he thought, would get his name before the public.

He ran in 1946 and defeated incumbent Rep. S. Henry Harris. His friend Charles Schuh, another war veteran, also was elected to the Legislature.

It was then that McClure learned to fly. "I had a plane before I had a car," he says. His wife Margaret had a car, however. He flew to Tallahassee for the 90-day legislative session and shared an apartment with Sen. Henry Baynard of St. Petersburg. It was quick and easy to fly home on the weekends to be with his wife and their three children, Maggie, Rhyder and Jim Jr.

McClure ran for re-election. "I ran the first time to get people to know I was home. I ran the second time because I felt I owed it to them," he said. "Then I figured I'd made my contribution."

He got lots of clients after being elected.

Although he didn't need his plane to go to Tallahassee anymore, he and Margaret enjoyed flying to Havana in his T-Craft. "We got to where we'd go every weekend," he said. He later bought a two-seater Cessna. Mrs. McClure died in 1972.

And there were the sailing years too. He sailed the Havana Race with Lew McMasters Sr. "He was a heck of a sailor," he said. McClure remembers capsizing once, rolling the sail down in the water, righting the boat and getting the sail back up.

He also remembers the excitement of the Havana reception. "A lot of the sailors flew their wives down. We went to an outdoor nightclub once, and they had these big trees," he said. "There was a platform way up in the top of a tree, and the girls came out there to entertain. Then there were the gambling casinos everywhere."

A man for all seasons, McClure also raced cars, an Alpha Romeo and two Porsches. "But I never raced out of Florida," he says, recalling races at Daytona and Sebring.

And then there is golf, which has been his most enduring pastime. He has played in North Carolina, Canada, Cuba, Mexico and other Central American countries.

He and Betsy Sinden were married in 1974, and live off the fairway of Lakewood Country Club's golf course. They have just returned from a summer vacation in North Carolina.