The Obit For Floyd Hall

Former Greenville superintendent J. Floyd Hall dies
May 30, 2012
by Ron Barnettm, Staff writer

Dr. J. Floyd Hall, Greenville County’s longest-serving superintendent of schools, who led the district through the tumultuous desegregation process and went on to be appointed by President Reagan as a member of his National Council on Education Research, has died.

He was 86.

A native of Alabama who grew up in a mill village, Hall was an Eagle Scout and played minor league baseball before deciding to become a teacher. He served as Greenville County’s superintendent from 1970-84.
He was married to the former Martha Snyder of Langdale, Ala., and the father of two sons, Mike and Reggie, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

The school district’s administration office building was named in honor of Hall, the district’s third superintendent.

In addition to leading the district through desegregation after a federal court order, Hall also pushed for the establishment of the district's Roper Mountain Science Center and Fine Arts Center, and for the first teacher pay raise in a decade.

“It was a time of great change and he was a person of high integrity and a real authority on school administration, and I had a great respect for him,” said former governor and U.S. Secretary of Education Dick Riley, who was a member of the Legislature when Hall was superintendent.

“He was a wonderful leader in education in a very difficult time,” he said.

During his 14 years as head of the state’s largest school district, Hall also reorganized schools into consistent grade patterns for elementary, middle and high school, developed alternative learning centers and career education centers, expanded the special education program, and instituted gifted and talented programs and public school kindergartens, according to district spokesman Oby Lyles.

He was responsible for securing the site and developing the master plan for the Roper Mountain Science Center and was instrumental in organizing the Governor’s School for the Arts, Lyles said.

Burke Royster, who took over as the district’s 10th superintendent last month, recalled Hall as “a professional educator and gentleman in every sense” who served as a mentor to many district leaders.

Hall was adamant about his two sons attending public schools, his son Reggie said. At the time, that meant a school with a red dirt playground and no air-conditioning.

When someone suggested he send the boys to a private school, “he said absolutely not. I’m not going to make decisions for other people’s children and not have my own children in the mix.”

Reggie Hall said he thinks the school board chose his dad because they were looking for someone who understood Northern culture, needed because of the influx of new business and industry from the North at the time, but had strong Southern roots, to be able to understand how to deal with desegregation.
“I think they were looking for somebody who could balance both of those worlds,” he said.

Alabama roots
Hall’s Southern roots can be traced to Langdale, Ala., where his family lived after his father left the farm to work in the mill. His dad never attended school.

Hall went to a school run by the mill.

"There was no goal for those of us in school," Hall recalled in 2006. "When we turned 16, we knew we were going to work in the mill, so we talked about what job will we hold in the mill."
He must have stood out among his schoolmates, though, because the mill superintendent told him the mill would pay for him to go to college -- if he would study textiles engineering and return to work for the mill after earning his degree.

World War II interrupted that plan.

Hall joined the Army Air Corps and trained to be a pilot, although the war ended before he was ever sent into combat.

Returning home, he sought another route out of the mill hill -- baseball.

He had played on the mill team as a teenager, splitting his shifts to allow time for the sport. Now he landed a job in the Georgia-Alabama League, a minor league organization, where he played outfield from 1946 to 1948.

At the same time, he was attending college on the G.I. Bill at Auburn University. Inspired by several of his teachers, who had told him "you can be whatever you want to be," he decided to become a teacher himself — if the major leagues didn't come calling.

They didn't, and he became a biology teacher, assistant football and basketball coach, and baseball coach in Lanett, Ala., after graduating in 1948.

An influential life
During his time as a baseball coach, Hall gave encouragement to a young man named Millard Fuller, who would grow up to found Habitat for Humanity.

"What came across to me as a young person was that he was genuinely interested in me, Millard Fuller, a left-handed pitcher, very unsure of myself," Fuller told The Greenville News in 2006. "But he added encouragement to my life and let me know that I was important to him."

He also coached football player Gary Barnes, who went on to play on the 1962 NFL Champion Green Bay Packer team.

By 1951, Hall had become superintendent of schools in Fairfax, Ala., and at age 26, was the youngest superintendent in the state.

He continued his studies at Auburn, earning a doctorate by 1957, and was hired the following year as superintendent of schools at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico.

It was there that he met President Eisenhower, who liked to slip away and play golf on the island. It was the first of several presidential encounters that eventually led to a position in the Reagan administration.

After leaving Greenville in 1984, Hall served in a new professorship of leadership and policy position at the University of South Carolina, then started an education consulting firm.
Gov. Carroll Campbell appointed him to the Southern Regional Education Board, and President Reagan named him a member of his National Council on Education Research.
"You think about this little ragtail boy going barefooted to school, and it just knocks you over almost," Hall said, reflecting on his long journey during the 2006 interview in the upstairs study of the same house he lived in as superintendent.

He started writing his memoirs because he wanted to share his story with his children and grandchildren, but it eventually became a book, with the help of Garnett Bane, a former reporter for The Greenville News.

Hall was an avid Braves fan, and loved Clemson and Auburn, said his grandson Chris Doar. Someone from the Braves organization calls him every year at Christmastime, he said.
He was a devoted Rotarian, making perfect attendance at Rotary meetings for 50 years, including last Thursday, Doar said.

He had bypass surgery 20 years ago and became a physical fitness devotee, Doar said.
“He took that brush with death seriously and was working out every day,” he said. “It was amazing.”

Even late in life, Hall got up at 6 a.m. three to four times a week to work out, he said.
And he was an inspiration for learning and striving for dreams, said his granddaughter Kathryn Hall.

“It certainly was an honor to be attached to his name. He influenced so many,” she said. “It’s great to know I’ll be a part of his legacy.”