By Keysha Drexel
Charles A. “Scotty” McCallum Jr. likes to make light of all of the hats he has worn and all he has achieved since moving from his native Connecticut to the Birmingham area in 1951.
The 88-year-old has been a dentist, an educator, the president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a two-term mayor of Vestavia Hills, and he’s still working to better his community.
“I guess I couldn’t hold a job,” McCallum said, laughing. “I just feel very lucky to have met and worked with all the people I’ve been able to get to know over the years.”
And by all accounts, the people that McCallum met feel the same way. The former dean of the UAB School of Dentistry and director of the UAB Medical Center will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award on March 6 at the 25th annual Leadership Vestavia Hills Citizens of the Year banquet.
Leadership Vestavia Hills’ Citizens of the Year program recognizes individuals and groups who make significant contributions to Vestavia Hills through volunteerism, generosity, fundraising and lifetime service.
McCallum’s decades of service to Vestavia Hills and the Birmingham metro community started back in 1951 when, fresh out of dental school, he followed his mentor to Alabama to complete a residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery.
“Dr. Joe Volker was the dean of Tufts (College Dental School) in Boston when I was a student there and he came down here and was the first dean of the dental school, and I admired him greatly,” McCallum.
McCallum became a dentist after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He graduated from high school in 1943 and enlisted in the Naval Air Corps to train to be a pilot.
Like most of the Greatest Generation, McCallum said he doesn’t see anything extraordinary about the fact that he put off college and instead enlisted in the military to serve his country.
“Well, it was World War II, and I wanted to contribute,” McCallum said. “It was the logical thing to do.”
McCallum never made it overseas during his military service and spent most of his time in the Navy training to be a pilot. When the war ended, he decided to follow his love for the sciences and enroll in college at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
“I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences and something that would help people. I considered being a doctor or a teacher but decided to go with dentistry with the goal of being an oral surgeon,” he said.
The UAB medical center was very different when McCallum first arrived in Birmingham in the 1950s, he said.
“The medical center only took up about three city blocks back then. It was very different than it is now. There used to be a putt-putt golf course on 20th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, if you can believe that,” McCallum said, laughing.
After completing his residency, McCallum decided he wanted to do more surgeries than dentists at the time were qualified and trained to do, so he decided to go back to school to earn a medical degree, he said.
“I finished medical school at UAB in 1957 and then they asked me to stay on as a faculty member, so I did that and then became the chair of the department,” McCallum said. “Then I was named the Dean of the School of Dentistry in 1962.”
As he was building his career in the Birmingham area, McCallum decided in 1967 to settle in Vestavia Hills to raise his family.
He and his late wife, Alice Lasseter McCallum, whom he met when she was working as a nurse at UAB, raised four boys in Vestavia Hills.
“It was and is a great place to raise a family. The schools are wonderful, I love the people and I’ve really enjoyed this being my home,” McCallum said.
Between 1957 and 1986, McCallum served as chairman, dean and vice president of three different medical departments at UAB and in 1986 was named UAB president.
“I finally got around to being a teacher and I loved it,” McCallum said. “I loved that the students challenged me and asked me things that I didn’t know and that we had the opportunity to learn together. Being a teacher was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. The students taught me so much.”
During his tenure as university president, McCallum made developing and supporting programs in aging one of his top priorities.
A few years after he retired from UAB, McCallum was approached by friends and neighbors in Vestavia Hills who suggested that he run for mayor.
“A couple of different times I was approached by groups of people who were trying to convince me to run for mayor,” he said. “So I thought about what I had really done to contribute to this wonderful city where I had raised my family. Besides coaching my son’s Little League teams, I hadn’t done as much as I should, so I decided to try to give back as mayor.”
At 74, McCallum ran for political office for the first time and defeated three-term mayor C. Pat Reynolds to become the new mayor of Vestavia Hills in 2000.
McCallum served two terms as the city’s mayor and put a priority on listening to what residents wanted for their city.
“Being the mayor was not about what I wanted, it was about what the people living in Vestavia Hills wanted,” he said. “That was always my approach.”
And what the residents wanted at that time, McCallum said, were more parks and recreation areas.
During his tenure as mayor, 300 acres of green space were added to the city, including 34 acres along Little Shades Creek. Five of those 34 acres known as Little Shades Creek Park now bear McCallum’s name. The Vestavia Hills City Council in February 2010 voted to name the area McCallum Park in his honor.
McCallum also worked to spur economic development during his tenure as the mayor of Vestavia Hills and was instrumental in the annexation of Cahaba Heights into the city.
“Patchwork Farms was a big deal and is a great asset to the city. Some of it has been developed, and there’s a lot more room out there for more development,” he said.
McCallum was recently honored for his contributions to Vestavia Hills by the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce.
In January, he was presented with the Chair’s Choice Award, which henceforth will be called the Charles A. McCallum Leadership Award.
When he found out he would be receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from Leadership Vestavia Hills next month, McCallum said he was humbled.
“I’m just thrilled to get this award from the people of Vestavia Hills who have been my friends and neighbors for so long,” he said. “I’m so glad I settled here in Vestavia Hills and that I made that decision long ago to come down here to Alabama.”
McCallum won’t be the only Vestavia Hills resident with UAB ties honored for his service to the city and the community at the March 6 Citizens of the Year banquet.
The Distinguished Citizen Award will go to Ronald D. Alvarez, a professor, director and vice chairman and the Ellen Gregg Shook Culverhouse Chair at UAB.
Alvarez, who worked under McCallum when he was president at UAB, is nationally recognized as a leader in research on ovarian cancer and cervical cancer.
The Citizens of the Year Award will be presented to Cooking with Cancer, a nonprofit organization founded by Luis Pineda. Pineda, a physician, researches and develops recipes for cancer patients and their families and has compiled a cookbook of the recipes that he gives to any cancer patient who requests a copy. Thus far, Pineda has given away about 25,000 cookbooks to cancer patients around the world.
The 25th annual Leadership Vestavia Hills Citizens of the Year banquet will start at 6 p.m. at a private club in Vestavia Hills. The banquet is open to the public. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased at the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce or online at www.leadershipvestaviahills.com.
For sponsorship information, contact James Robison at email@example.com.