2017-03-01 / Features

growing up MCGREW

By Pam Brannon


“I lost the man I adored and was married to for 49 years, and these children are all I have left of him. They are such a blessing, all of them and all those grandchildren, too.” Mary Lou McGrew “I lost the man I adored and was married to for 49 years, and these children are all I have left of him. They are such a blessing, all of them and all those grandchildren, too.” Mary Lou McGrew Joshua McGrew says growing up in a family of 19 kids prepared him for the job he has now – principal of Oriole Beach Elementary.

McGrew is in his second year as principal at the school. “My dad was a doctor his whole life and when I was young I thought I might like to be a doctor, like him. I saw how he helped so many people. But I loved baseball and football, and in high school I discovered how much I loved history. So I decided I wanted to be a high school history teacher and a coach.”

He went to Lurleen B. Wallace College in Alabama, then to Pensacola Junior College and finished his teaching degree at University of West Florida in Pensacola. Growing up most of his life in the Pensacola area, he decided to apply at area schools, and Navarre High was in its first year of graduating students. “I was hired to teach American History and coach baseball right after college graduation,” he said. “I taught for four years, worked in Guidance for two years, and as Dean for two years. I was a baseball coach for eight years and a football coach for six years. I was surprised when I got the call here to come and interview for the assistant principal job. My experience had [always] been in high school.”


McGrew's dad on Pensacola Beach McGrew's dad on Pensacola Beach But McGrew says he loves his school and his work now. “I would not want to go back to high school,” he said.

McGrew’s dad was a well-known doctor in the area. “He was born in Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, worked in Sacred Heart Hospital among other areas, and died in Sacred Heart Hospital. He died of a sudden heart attack in 2010 at age 82. He was still working 12-hour shifts.”

“He was also a doctor for the Milton prison as well as team doctor for some teams like Navarre High. He never wanted to retire,” he recalled. His dad was also a medic in the Korean War, serving four years in the military. “[And] he was our personal doctor,” McGrew said. “I remember being stitched up by my dad on our long 12-foot table once myself, and probably another one or two of the other kids were too.”

McGrew said he remembers having “only” as many as 13 kids living under the same roof at one time while he was growing up. “My dad had four children from his first marriage, but they were over all the time and we didn’t call them “step” siblings – we are still in touch with them too,” he recalled. “Then mom and dad gave birth to five, and they adopted 10.”


McGrew and his family growing up- he is the little guy down in front turning around McGrew and his family growing up- he is the little guy down in front turning around But the McGrews didn’t apply to adopt all those 10 children. His mom, Mary Lou, who lives in Gulf Breeze, told Splash!, “My husband delivered a baby for a young girl who was going to give it up for adoption. She trusted my husband and asked him if he would take the baby and help find a good home for her. We decided to adopt the baby ourselves– and she was our oldest, our first. We named her Angel. Most of the babies we adopted came to us kind of like that – either from a judge calling or a social worker or even another doctor. People who knew we would take children who needed homes,” she recalled.

The oldest McGrew child is 50 and the youngest is 28. Many of them call their mom daily. “My phone starts ringing in the morning and then rings all afternoon and early evening from my kids. I love it,”she laughed.

“My husband read an article one time… It was about how important ‘time’ was in raising children. [The writer] recalled how he had one hour each week with his father… We knew we wanted to do that and always tried.”

McGrew said of his hour spent with his parents each week, “It was something really special. They made each of us feel special,” he said.

These days most of his brothers and sisters and their families still

McGrew and his mom live in the area. Four live in Indiana. Mary Lou has 23 grandchildren. The family is close and keeps in touch.

“We go to Mom’s house every Sunday,” McGrew said. “There can be as many as 20 or 25, or a lot more.” McGrew said most of the family goes with Mom to church at Community Life Center in Midway. Then they all still sit down to the same 12- foot table they had growing up to enjoy lunch together each weekend.

McGrew said he wants each of “his kids” at the school and his teachers and staff to feel as special when they come through those doors as his parents made his family feel. “I want them to feel like they have left the worries of the outside world when they come here – like they have walked through the doors of Disney World! We are going to teach and learn but [also] relax and have fun doing it.”

McGrew and his wife have four children of their own, and he still stops by to check on his Mom every day before going home after work.

And just how old is Mary Lou McGrew? “My mom always said you don’t ask a lady her age or her dress size,” she laughed. “My birthday is March 2. So just say I am just over 80 years old!”

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