McMilion guided people to better quality of life

Published 11:41 pm Monday, December 21, 2015

Louis Daniel McMilion, who helped guide hundreds of people to a better quality of life through his dental practice and fitness programs, died Dec.18 after a long illness. He was 76.

Friends and family of Louis McMilion remember the positive impact the dentist and businessman had in lives.

Friends and family of Louis McMilion remember the positive impact the dentist and businessman had in lives.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Mary Ryall (Boo) McMilion, daughter Mary McMilion Hansell (Paul), and sons, Louis Daniel McMilion III (Patti) and John Reid McMilion; five grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; his brother-in-law, Dr. Caldwell DeBardeleben (Patty); as well as numerous nephews, nieces and cousins. He was preceded in death by his sister, Lisa McMilion DeBardeleben, and parents, Louis Daniel McMilion and Elise Cothran McMilion Pearson.

Born and raised in Selma, McMilion was a member of the Cothran and Vaughan families, who were pioneer settlers of Dallas County. He was a 1957 graduate of Albert G. Parish high school before graduating from the University of Alabama School of Dentistry in 1965. He was also a lifelong member of First Presbyterian Church (now Cornerstone Presbyterian).

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After spending two years in the military, McMilion returned to Selma in 1968 and opened his dental practice, where he served hundreds of patients before retiring in 2010.

Julie Sams took over McMilion’s practice and remembers him as her mentor and second father, someone who taught her how to put her patients first, and how to also have a good time doing it. Sams met McMilion when she was a junior in dental school, and he made quite an impression.

“There was a meeting where dentists were looking for partners, and I walked into the room and he and his office (staff) had stayed out the night before having fun,” Sams said. “Lots of the practices had tri-fold pamphlets and displays, and I came to this table and there was nothing on the table except business cards. I asked them where they were from and they were from Selma. Months later I called and drove from Birmingham to visit and it was one of the best days I’ve ever had. My face hurt from being around them I laughed so much. Everything has fallen into place since we moved here, and I know it’s the Lord that made that happen.”

After leaving his dental practice in 2010, McMilion felt restless, so on the advice of a fellow dentist he became certified with the Academy of Sports Medicine and began teaching at the Wellness Center in Selma, a physical rehabilitation facility, where he incorporated exercise into geriatric patients’ routines.

In 2012, McMilion launched Selma CrossFit, a structured physical fitness program that began in Seattle, Washington in 2000 and has more than 3,500 affiliates worldwide.

“I had been doing CrossFit for a couple of years, and I’d bought it hook, line and sinker,” his son, Louie, said. “I talked it up to daddy, and the next thing I know Reid called me and said daddy had the (CrossFit) level one trainer’s course manual. He had seen the difference it made in me and it resonated with him.”

Like everything he did, Boo said her husband dove in head first, with all that he had, physically and mentally.

“We went to Atlanta for him to take his test,” she said. “He was gone all day long and when he drove up he said ‘I’m not sure I can get out of the car. I’ve never been through anything like this. They didn’t give a damn if I was 73 or not, I had to do exactly what the (others) had to do.’”

Boo said it was excruciating waiting for word on whether he’d passed the test or not.

“After a week we hadn’t heard and he said, ‘I don’t think I passed it,’” she said. “The tenth day, at 9 o’clock at night, we got an email that he passed it, so we opened September 2012. He was at that gym at 5 a.m., freezing cold. He trained everybody that came. He was living and breathing it at 73.”

Eventually other regular CrossFit members earned their certification to teach, giving McMilion some help and allowing him to step back as health issues began to affect him.

More than 400 people have now experienced Selma CrossFit, many transforming their lives, just as McMilion dreamed.

“I remember telling daddy, if you start this, you’re going to build something, and what you’re going to build is a community and it’s going to be a community of people that you will have actually changed their lives in a positive way,” Louie said. “That meshed so well with him and he was the perfect person to start that.”

Other than making smiles and bodies prettier, and healthier, those who remember McMilion say his compassion, leadership and unique humor were the things they will remember most about him.

“I had a friend write me one day who said I really want to caution you about something,” Boo said. “She said don’t ever, ever try to change his unique wit. The Lord made him like that, don’t discourage that. Another friend called me and said, ‘The Lord had me look up what his name meant, Christian wise, and it meant declarer of God.’ And all of the things I’ve gotten about his dentistry and the things he did, it’s just been overwhelming to see his kindness and gentleness and wanting to help people.”

His children remember their father as a disciplinarian, who loved them first and foremost, made sure they knew how to behave in public, but also showed compassion and caring for others.

“I think the one thing that daddy instilled in me was that it didn’t matter who you were, where you came from, if he was talking to you he made you feel like you were the most important person to be heard,” Mary said. “Everybody felt the love that he had. Some people you can just read them and you can tell they don’t care for you. Daddy wasn’t like that. He just made everybody feel important and loved.”

Louie remembered his dad as someone who made sure his children knew right from wrong, especially at the dinner table.

“He was a stickler for manners, and we know how to act when we have to,” he said, chuckling. “One of the things he used to instill in us is minding our manners at the dinner table, and in life as well.”

His son Reid, who starred in the backfield for the Auburn Tigers, recalls his dad as someone who squeezed everything out of the life he led, making sure to have fun in the process.

“He always had a way of making everything fun,” Reid said. “He always had a way of making something that was a bad day end up being a great day and I was privileged enough to see that for quite some time. Some people do it different ways, and it was just his way. Everybody always kind of went toward daddy.”

Childhood friend and local attorney Henry Pitts recalled McMilion being an exceptional athlete who inspired others and gave without asking his good deeds to be returned.

“He was probably one of the best athletes I was ever around, and that includes Kenny Stabler and all the other athletes I’ve been around,” Pitts said. “Anything with a ball, he could do and he was always a team player. Louie would give the shirt off his back to help anyone, at anytime. I think that’s why he had such a successful dental practice, because he wanted to give to people, and he never asked for any recognition. He was the closest friend I’ve ever had or ever will have.”

Another childhood friend, Billy Summerville, remembers spending summer days on the streets of Selma, acting out the characters they’d seen at the local movie theaters.

“I remember after watching a western movie we went looking for some red mud so we could put it on our bodies like Indians and ride up and down Broad Street,” Summerville said. “The police finally called our parents to come get us. We’d often get thrown out of one movie theater, they’d give us our dime back, and we’d go to another theater and get thrown out of it and be on probation. It was different times back then.”

Tommy Gayle was McMilion’s friend since he was old enough to have friends.

“He was one of my oldest and best friends. Our grandparents were friends, our parents were friends, and we’ve been friends all our life,” Gayle said. “He was one of the finest people I’ve ever known, in every way a man could be. He would help anybody and was always in a good humor.”

Coosa Jones knew McMilion from the first grade and said just being around him was an experience that left you feeling fulfilled.

“I felt better when I was around him and everybody else did,” Jones said. “He had that quality that made everybody feel better by being around him. There will be a tremendous void left with his passing. He was one of a kind and I don’t think we’ll see anyone with his character and quality anytime soon.”

Graveside services will be held today at 11 a.m. in New Live Oak Cemetery with Judge Bob Armstrong officiating and Selma Funeral Home directing. There will be a visitation with family and friends following the service at Selma CrossFit, 910 Landline Road.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Integrity Worldwide, PO Box 347, Selma, AL 36702, or by donating through the organization’s website,