Give a listen to those who knew Al Cleveland best.

“He was honest in all his decisions, and ethical in all his actions,” Harry Shaw says. “His memory will linger on for his dedication to the education of students at Methodist University, Fayetteville Technical Community College, Fayetteville State University and many other agencies and nonprofits. He  gave of himself to the betterment of all the folks of Cumberland County.”

Or give thought to June 27, the day Alfred Cleveland lost his battle with multiple myeloma, a blood disorder,  at age 81, when Methodist University lowered the school flag to half-staff in memory of the trustee emeritus who believed so fervently in the university, and its tomorrows to come.

“He was passionate about Methodist,” Jennifer Elam, 48, says about her father. “He saw its potential and the benefit it could provide Fayetteville and Cumberland County.”

Cleveland, co-executor of the Thomas R. and Elizabeth E. McLean Foundation at the late Tom McLean's directive to his old friend, saw the school's calls were met whenever there was a need.

“He will long be especially remembered for the particular phrase he coined as he encouraged the university to always make a 'commitment to excellence,'” says Mary Lynn Bryant, who recently stepped down as board chairwoman, "and take Methodist to an even higher level of achievement.”

Cleveland dedicated McLean Foundation funding to FTCC and Fayetteville State University, too.

“That was one of the things Tom and his wife, Elizabeth, thought would be most helpful … the education aspect for Fayetteville,” Cleveland was saying nine months ago in recalling Tom McLean's wishes before his death at age 79 on Dec. 13, 1998. “He said, 'I don’t have any children, and all of Iddy’s friends don’t need anything. And I want to do something to help Fayetteville.”

The foundation, through McLean's words to Cleveland', gave to nonprofits and other benevolence throughout the community.

“My father was passionate about giving back to his community,” Elam says. “He served for many years on the Cumberland Community Foundation board and encouraged others to get involved as well.  At both CCF and Methodist, he enjoyed the work, but also the people and sense of purpose he shared with them.”

Alfred Eugene Cleveland III earned his law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1959. He served as a first lieutenant Army JAG officer before moving to this city and eventually joining the legal firm of Sanford, Phillips, McCoy and Weaver over the old downtown Grace Pittman Building in 1960.

“Al was one of the few truly gentle people I’ve known," Richard Wiggins, who worked with Cleveland 57 years, fondly would tell those at Highland Presbyterian Church.  "Al knew more and cared more about more things than almost anyone I’ve known."

Not perfect, Wiggins would say, but perfect enough.

"I do know there is a heaven to which good men are taken, and surely Al is there," Wiggins would say. "Kenneth Powers memorialized our late President John F. Kennedy. That book was called 'Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye.'  We say, 'Al, we knew you well, and we thank our Lord for your presence in our lives.''

Cleveland walked softly.

He talked softly.

He demanded the most of himself, and accepted nothing less. He demanded the most in others, and accepted nothing less.

Yet, he listened to others with an engaging interest, and a kindly way.

“He was, during his lifetime, one of the best in our city, and he will be remembered by most for leaving a legacy that we all should try to emulate,"  Shaw says. "Not many people like Al Cleveland come along our way … and make such an difference in our lives.”

“Al did.

“And,” Shaw says, “he will be missed. ”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at bkirby@fayobserver.com or 486-3571.