Opinion – 4/22/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 22, 2005

The Panolian: OPINIONS

From the 4/22/05 issue of The Panolian :             


By David C. Cole

When valued friend and colleague Robert Hyde died this week, I was flooded with memories and emotions of a man who not only helped shape the future of our local public schools but who also had a profound impact on all who knew him.

Mr. Hyde personified the true example of a "Servant Leader" before the term became commercialized through leadership seminars. He had patience and understanding beyond measure and never relented in his basic trust in people.

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He had the heart of an educator and at all times believed in and worked within the system.

He was in every manner an exemplary role model for all us who had the privilege to work with and be lead by his excellent example.

When considering his career path, I am amazed at how gentle, genteel and tolerant Mr. Hyde was with the rest of us. A native of Pontotoc, Mr. Hyde came to the former Patton Lane High School in 1955 as a math teacher.

In 1957, he was appointed principal where he served with distinction until the schools were desegregated in 1970. At that time, he along with every other administrator or director in the former black schools in the district was assigned some variation of an assistant’s job in the new school system.

Those were tenuous times, and the school district leadership was attempting to accomplish what was considered an almost impossible balancing feat by trying to avoid either black boycott or white flight.

If successful, the local schools, and in a larger context, the local community would become not only survivors but eventually winners in the quest for quality of life for the people who lived in the South Panola District.

What has been little known is the fact that, in the early 1970s, all of the plans set forth by the school district could have been derailed had it not been for the values, character and patience of Mr. Hyde.

As a displaced principal, he was encouraged time and again by civil rights activists to sign papers to initiate a lawsuit that would have put the school district in federal court. That would have taken local decision making out of the hands of the local school leadership.

Time and again he refused.

He and his family suffered retribution from elements of the black community for that refusal and then, on the other hand, were ostracized by elements of the white community because of a lack of trust in a man few even knew, let alone understood.

The simple truth is that in those challenging days, we simply just did not know each other very well. How he and his family endured those difficult years is a testament to their strong belief in humanity through their Christian faith.

In the spring of 1973, Mr. Hyde and I had enough trust in each other to have a long talk about the circumstances that resulted in his displacement as a school leader. Actually, we knew each other but really didn’t know much about each other. Following that fateful day when he shared his story, and my heart was broken at what he and his family had suffered at the expense of school integration, I made a promise that he would again be a school principal.

Through the courageous support of the school board, that commitment was fulfilled. When Mr. Hyde retired as principal of Batesville Intermediate School in 1990, tears were shed by an admiring faculty and students of all ages, including myself.

I learned much from his example of patience, persistence and professionalism.

And, the true Servant Leader that he was, some of Mr. Hyde’s most productive years were enjoyed after retirement. He served his community, church and his profession until his death.

Mr. Hyde’s spiritual essence was his graceful statesmanship. He was always poised and deliberate and never reactionary. He will leave a lasting legacy through the thousands of students, co-workers and friends influenced by his shining example.

And through it all, Cathryn (his wife of 46 years) was his partner in education and in life. Our community owes them both our gratitude and appreciation.

I am blessed to have had them as friends, and our community is a much better place for the citizenship evidenced through their lives of service.

(David Cole is former superintendent of South Panola School District, chief of staff for former Governor Ronnie Musgrove and is presently serving as president of Itawamba Community College. He is also a friend to Robert Hyde)



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