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Chandler's legacy lives decades after he was superintendent

By KBell
June 28, 2011 at 1:28 a.m.


FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTSVISITATION: 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Gipson's Funeral Home, 1515 S. Chestnut St., Lufkin

FUNERAL: Thursday at First Baptist Church, 106 E. Bremond Ave., Lufkin

BURIAL: Garden of Memories Cemetery, U.S. Highway 59, Lufkin

For all that Charles O'Hara Chandler contributed to educating kids in Victoria, the United States and worldwide, there was one lesson that struck most memorable with his son.

"He taught me that I was as good as anybody that was anybody. But I was no better than anyone that was nobody," George Chandler, 72, said.

That was one of his first memories of his dad, best known as C.O.

The elder Chandler died Monday in his Lufkin home at the age of 103, sharp and bright until the end, his only son said.

"He did just about everything you can think of that was good and positive," he said about the man he calls "Daddy."

Chandler was the superintendent of Victoria schools from 1955 until his retirement in 1974.

During his tenure, he oversaw the construction of Victoria High School, Stroman High School and four elementary schools, built in response to the boom in Victoria during '60s and '70s. He was also instrumental in consolidating county schools into independent school districts like Victoria's.

To add just a little to his long resume, Chandler was on President Dwight Eisenhower's White House cabinet for education for public schools and was several times a delegate of the United States to the World Conference of Educators. He also went to the Soviet Union in the height of the Cold War as an exchange educator.

But most notable to his son was Chandler's forward-thinking when it came to integrating blacks into the school system.

His son remembered the superintendent telling him that the kids at F.W. Gross High School - the black school - couldn't play basketball when it rained because the floor would get wet.

"I remember him commenting, 'Son, do you think that can be separate but equal?'"

Chandler was an advocate for people who weren't given equal opportunity to pursue education, his son said.

"He was a true believer in the educational system. He was a product of it," the younger Chandler said.

Coming from a poor family of sawmill workers, Chandler worked hard to earn an academic scholarship to attend Baylor University. After his first year, Chandler's mother got sick, so the teenager returned home to Diboll to take care of her and the finances.

Fifty years later, he'd receive an Honorary Doctorate of Law Degree from Baylor after getting his bachelors and masters degrees during summer sessions elsewhere.

In the meantime, he married his wife, Alma Elizabeth Sellers Chandler, and he played catch with his son, who still practices trial law.

"He always found time to spend some quality time with me every day. I was a lucky kid," his son said.

A few Victorians who knew Chandler shared their memories of the man who was never far from their minds - and not just because of the Victoria school named in his honor.

Debbie Michalski started working at Chandler Elementary School when it first opened in 2001. She said Chandler would call from his home in Lufkin on the first day of every school year.

"He made it a priority to keep in touch with people," Michalski, who retired as principal this year, said.

Another former colleague, Pamela Dry, said she always admired Chandler's outreach to the kids during Christmastime.

"He went around and visited every one of the classrooms. He was a very visible superintendent," Dry said.

Besides being able to cruise any VISD hallway and call a teacher by name, Chandler also made it a point to visit hospital patients, Michalski said.

"He loved people, and once he met them, he remembered them. They were a friend for life."

Ken Ballard, a teacher at Stroman High School under Chandler's command, had a similar experience.

Calling himself "just one of the employees," Ballard said he remembers when, after back surgery in 1972, he was surprised to receive a visit from the big man on campus.

"He made everybody who was around him feel good," Ballard said. "You didn't find many like him, with the door (open) like him."

Each of their unique memories of the two-time grandfather and three-time great-grandfather are telling to Chandler's personal approach that left a legacy even decades after he moved from the community.

His son summed it all up best.

"He was just a good daddy and a good person."

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