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North students, coworkers and community remember Richard Carroll

Rick Wagner • Jan 6, 2019 at 12:00 PM

“Today can be a great day for you if you want it to be.” — Richard Carroll, Jan. 29, 1940 — Dec. 8, 2018

KINGSPORT — Last month’s funeral for J. Richard Carroll was among the most memorable and inspiring ones I’ve ever attended. It was, as a handout given to the hundreds in attendance said, a celebration of life service. It came exactly a week after his death.

For one thing, it was held in the most appropriate place it could be, the gymnasium at Sullivan North High School, named for Carroll long before he retired.

WHO WAS CARROLL?

Richard Carroll was likely the most ardent and consistent advocate of North, its students, teachers and the greater North community, particularly Bloomingdale, where he grew up and spent his career. When he died unexpectedly Dec. 8, North lost the retired educator who still drove the bus to football games. He attended a North basketball game the Tuesday before he passed away.

Carroll was active in the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association and was the first person in the state to be a certified athletic administrator by the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrator’s Association. He also had repeatedly been named athletic director of the year by different groups.

The big picture details of his career in education: He started to work for the school system in 1966, first at Kingsley, then at Ketron High and finally at North. As for small details, he chose the folks who would speak at his funeral and the four gospel songs and the North Alma Mater that were played during the service.

HOW WAS HE REMEMBERED IN EULOGY?

Holston Middle School and Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee Principal Jonathan Fields remembered Carroll as “the most humble and honorable man I’ve ever known” who loved his border collies, Chase and Zack, the North zone, his family and church.

Carroll taught typing, math and algebra, was a track coach, assistant coach in other sports, athletic director and principal. But he might be remembered most by North students and graduates as the man who said on the intercom every morning, “Today can be a great day for you if you want it to be.”

Fields said he recently asked Carroll if that had special meaning for him.

“ ‘It has a special meaning for the people around me,’ ” Fields said Carroll responded. “ ‘Having a good day is a choice.’ 

“His vehicle and cars were unlocked and his keys on the floorboard,” Fields recalled.

He said Carroll once bought a car for someone who needed it and had let folks live with him if they had nowhere else to go. He said Carroll was definitely a father figure to him.

“He became that father and loved us as his own,” Fields said.

WHAT DID MINISTERS SAY ABOUT HIM?

Reedy Creek Presbyterian Church’s Rev. Marshall Steinle and Rev. Gale Hartley of Bethany Baptist Church in Mountain City described Carroll as the embodiment of a servant leader who didn’t hesitate to help others.

WHAT ABOUT HIS FORMER STUDENTS?

Carroll never married, but he had “children” — thousands of them over the years at three schools. Posts on Facebook and the Hamlett-Dobson Funeral Home website were crammed with hundreds and hundreds of comments, mostly from former students recounting how he helped them with math, athletics or life.

Retired Kingsport Times News Executive Sports Editor Pat Kenney, who wrote most of the newspaper articles on display the day of the funeral, recently told me there simply won’t be any more folks like Carroll. He never married in the traditional sense, but he was married to North and the other two schools. His children were the thousands of students who came through them under his tenure as a teacher, coach, athletic director and principal. He and his legacy live on through them, as well as his family and church.

Rick Wagner is an education writer for the Kingsport Times News and can be reached at rwagner@timesnews.net or (423) 392-1381.

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