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October 28, 2002

The things that matter

By Eric Rangus

Behind his cubicle, which sits beyond the circulation desk on the third floor of Woodruff Library, Myron McGhee flips through a stack of about 20 photographs. Most are of a funeral that took place in April.

The remainder are of the site of a plane crash in Ventura, Calif., that took the life of his friend Mike Norman, a Navy aviator. The two had known one another while students at Western Carolina University. Norman’s plane flamed out less than 10 seconds before landing. He never had a chance.

“I hadn’t talked to him for 15 years, but he’s constantly on my mind,” says McGhee, a circulation desk supervisor. “I haven’t been able to figure out what to do with these photos,” he says, continuing to leaf through them.

“The regret I have is not pushing forward enough to pick up the phone and call him. I sent him an e-mail that didn’t get a response and I just let it go.”

McGhee is a pretty cerebral guy. Soft-spoken, in conversation his voice remains at one quiet cadence no matter the subject. The wheels in his mind appear to be turning constantly, and despite the fact he doesn’t make a lot of eye contact, there is always the sense that he is engaged.

“He died doing the very thing he wanted to do since he was 12 years old. He wanted to be a pilot,” McGhee says. “I think at some level all of us know what we’re supposed to be doing, though we might not always have the courage to do it. I believe really deep down inside, we know what we’re really passionate about. Part of the test of living this life is to figure out how to do it.”

After several years of drifting and working with only a smattering of satisfaction, McGhee, who turned 40 earlier this year, finally found out what he was supposed to be doing.

“I used to facetiously say that I went to seminary to figure out that I wanted to be an artist,” said McGhee, who graduated from the Candler School of Theology in 1995. “I don’t want to take the high road about being an ‘artist,’ but I like creating things, I like making people think and get in touch with their emotions and inner feelings—the things that matter, things of substance.”

Well, if there ever was a time when McGhee was drifting, it’s over now. His debut CD, Between, an accessible mix of bluesy, mellow, acoustic guitar-based pop songs was released in August, and a month-long exhibit of his photographs—which were displayed at the Starbuck’s in Decatur Square just closed this past weekend. Several will reappear at an artist’s market in Buckhead, Nov. 9.

“When you can sit down and do something for eight or 10 hours and have no concept that you been doing it that long—it’s cool,” he says. “You know that you’re in your passion. You know that you’re doing the thing that’s deepest within you.”

McGhee has been writing and playing songs since his early teens; the photography came a bit later. He played in some bands when he was younger, but his musical career didn’t get churning until theology school, when he was able to perform.

One fan he made was the Indigo Girls’ Emily Saliers, who sought him out after a performance to tell him she liked his work (“She doesn’t remember,” he jokes, but one person who does—her father, theology’s Don Saliers—played piano on one of the Between’s songs.)

Most of McGhee’s live performances have been of the coffee house variety—just him and his acoustic guitar—but he played two well-received songs to close out Emory Sept. 11 commemoration program. He also will perform at the Unity Week Kickoff, Nov. 1.

For the most part Between has sold by word of mouth. The only place it is available for retail purchase locally is the Cokesbury Bookstore at 2495 Lawrenceville Highway. Eventually McGhee said, he would at least like to have the CD available at all local Cokesbury’s.

“I would love to be doing music and photography full time,” McGhee says. “Music in particular, because it seems to be the way I connect with people. There’s only one person with this voice, there’s only one person who plays the guitar the way I do; there are a lot of photographers who take very similar shots. So I think the music has a particular singularity.”

Somehow, McGhee manages to mix his full-time job, his music and his photography with his home life. He and his wife, Juana Clem McGhee, met while students at Candler, married in 1993, graduated in 1995 and now have two daughters, 6-year-old Cana and 3-year-old Taylor.

Like her husband, Juana is an Emory employee. She is special programs coordinator for the Institute for Comparative and International Studies. On weekday afternoons, she journeys to the library to pick up the two girls, which Myron hands off when he begins his evening shift at the library.

Another thing the McGhees share is guidance of the Ajalon Group (The word “ajalon” a variation of a Hebrew word that means “place of gazelles.” The web address is www. The nonprofit organization, which Myron and Juana cofounded mixes classes and artistic endeavors aimed at promoting personal wellness, artistic vision and self-realization.

Myron says the eventual goal is build a sanctuary—a place where people could come to relax, where artists could find inspiration, where anyone who needs to reconnect with themselves inspirit could find the solitude to do just that.

“Life’s all about connecting with people,” McGhee says. “The details. The small things. The things that matter.”