Former Southampton school board chairman dies

Published 10:54 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Former Southampton County School Board Chairman Russell Schools died early on Tuesday morning. The 81-year-old served on the board for 41 years before choosing not to seek reappointment in 2012.

Russell Schools

Russell Schools

“He was incredible leader,” former Southampton Superintendent Charles Turner said. “He exemplified leadership and commitment. He was very committed to the education of young people at Southampton and to the staff and their parents. Everything he did was outstanding. He was well respected and very dedicated, and it’s a tremendous loss.”

When he began his tenure at Southampton, there were two schools — one black and one white — in the towns of Boykins, Capron, Courtland, Drewryville, Ivor and Newsoms. There were also Riverview and Southampton high schools and a school in Hunterdale.

“Then came the integration laws,” Schools told former managing editor Gwen Albers during the meeting at which he announced he would not seek another four-year term. “We closed one school [in each community] and made Riverview a middle school. We had to change from that to integrated schools. It was quite a time in the county with peoples’ ideas and how they thought it should be done.”

Schools’ youngest son, Todd, said that his father’s legacy is tied to the integration of the school district and the construction of new elementary schools.

“He oversaw the building of the new high school and pushed hard to have Riverdale and Meherrin built,” Todd Schools said. “He really drove Southampton County Schools to meet his vision with solid teachers and administrators. He was really proud of Southampton and what they accomplished in terms of accreditation every year.”

During his tenure, Chairman Schools considered retirement on many occasions, but said that something always interrupted.

“I have served with three superintendents. First was Bill Harvile, then Dr. Howard Waynewright and Charles Turner,” he said. “ I was going to stop when Dr. Waynewright was hired because my term was coming up. At the same time, he was going to start the next year and said, ‘Please don’t retire now. I need you to lead me by the hand.’”

Schools said that serving on the school board became more complicated as time went on.

“There’s so many things you have to look at — all the mandates that come down from the state and trying to keep everyone happy,” he said. “It’s almost an impossible task.”

Schools leaves behind his wife, Fay, and three children — Russell, 58, a graduate of Old Dominion University; Lynn Heacock, 56, who received her bachelor’s degree from Averett College and master’s from the University of Richmond; and Todd, 48, a graduate of Virginia Tech.

“One of the things that he said he wanted to be remembered by was that he cared,” Todd Schools said. “Whether it was the students, teachers or the administrators, he cared. His commitment to the community set a standard for his children and for others, and that’s what’s important.”

Visitation will be Saturday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Wright Funeral Home in Franklin. The service is scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m. at Capron United Methodist Church. Burial to follow at Capron Cemetery.