LAKE CITY, S.C. (WMBF) - A community in the Pee Dee is gathering Thursday to honor one of its own, 35 years after his life was tragically cut short.
A candlelight vigil was held for astronaut Ronald McNair at the Dr. Ronald E. McNair Memorial Park on East Main Street.
McNair was one of seven astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger when it exploded above Cape Canaveral on Jan. 28, 1986. The spacecraft broke apart 73 seconds after it launched due to an engine failure, later found to be caused by an o-ring failure.
McNair, a native of Lake City, has since been honored by his hometown each year since his passing. The city has since opened the Ronald E. McNair Life History Center, a museum paying tribute to his life and legacy.
“Dr. McNair grew up in Lake City and walked the streets of Lake City,” Lake City mayor Lovith Anderson said during Thursday’s vigil. “Football, band, choir, you name it he participated in it. He was just an everyday fella. But the greatest thing was when he came home. He always took time to go out into the neighborhood and make sure everyone knew he was in town.”
According to his NASA profile, McNair graduated from Carver High School in 1967, which was later renamed Ronald E. McNair Middle School in his honor. He then received his bachelor’s degree in physics from North Carolina A&T State University in 1971.
McNair earned a doctor of philosophy in physics from MIT in 1976 and went on to earn honorary doctorate degrees from NC A&T, Morris College and the University of South Carolina over the following decade.
Anderson praised McNair when looking back on his accomplishments, encouraging those in the city to remember and honor his legacy by striving for more.
“His quest should be our quest. His quest is ours and still for us to educate our students,” he said. “Help them be the best that they can be. There is a lot of talent in Lake City. Never let anybody write us off.”
McNair was also aboard the Challenger as a mission specialist in 1984, where he became just the second African American to fly in space. That mission, STS-41-B, is credited with demonstrating the first untethered spacewalk in history.
After his death, McNair was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004.
“We much keep his fire burning. Keep his light shining,” said Anderson. “You know what it’s like when it’s all dark and you light a candle? You can see. Let us continue to keep his legacy alive. So that the light will burn and be a beacon for those who want to grow and do better.”