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Saluting a trailblazer

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Building named for Gadsden County’s first black superintendent of schools

By Alice Du Pont

Gadsden County’s first elected black Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Robert H. Bryant, was honored April 4 when the school district’s transportation facility was named in his honor.

Bryant served as school superintendent from 1984 to 1992 and touched the lives of many a teacher, assistant principal, principal and superintendent.

School Board Chairman Isaac Simons, who was a student under Bryant, called him a trailblazer.

“Mr. Bryant left many marks on me as a student at Carter-Parramore,” said Simmons. “Those of you who attended Carter-Parramore know what I mean. The statement drew a laugh from many in the audience of about 100 who recalled Bryant’s no-nonsense approach to discipline.

But the man who Bryant succeeded as superintendent gave another side of the life of the man who nurtured students in Gadsden County for many years.

“I knew him as a courageous man who had his priorities straight. He is a Christian husband, loyal and faithful to his wife, a father, educator and we have been blessed to have him among us,” said Grinelle Bishop, former school superintendent.

He referred to Bryant as a distinguished gentleman and a great man.

Reginald James, Superintendent of School, recommended that the transportation facility be named in honor of Bryant because it was constructed under Bryant’s tenure as superintendent. When James presented the idea to the School Board it was approved unanimously. 

County Judge Kathy Garner said  she counted it an honor to be asked to make remarks at the dedication of the facility for the man she referred to as a “gentle giant.”

“I find you guilty of being a servant leader and sentence you to eternal life,” Garner said.

There were many days, Bryant said, that he followed school buses to where students lived. Other times, before there was a central transportation facility, he drove his car to a school and rode the bus to schools, repeating the same route in the evenings.

He was learning, he said, where students lived and their housing conditions as well as the challenges that faced bus drivers and students.

“I followed the buses because I wanted to see what our boys and girls faced.” he said.

Bryant said he was elated to have a building named in his honor after pulling the rope to unveil the polished silver lettering on the east exterior wall of the building at 720 S. Stewart Street. He said it made him very happy and thankful to have his family in town for the occasion.

“I hope, in my lifetime, I have made a difference in the life of some boy or some girl,” he said.

But the man who once jumped out of airplanes as a member of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division became emotional when he talked about what the dedication meant to him.

“If my parents could see me now,” he said, fighting back tears, before adding, “my wife of 57 years is here, my children and my grandchildren are here. My sister and her husband are here from Rhode Island, and I’m so happy that all of them could make it.”

He credits the success in his personal and professional life to the simple motto he has lived by: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”