Friday, June 18, 2010

Dr.Otts Dies

Bob Ellis just informed me that our friend and principal, Dr. John Otts has died. He was 100 years old.

Dr. John Coan Otts

BLACK MOUNTAIN, NC -- Dr. Otts, 100, a distinguished educator and churchman, died June 12, 2010 at Highland Farms Retirement Community in Black Mountain, N.C. A memorial service will be held at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church Saturday, July 17th.

A son of the late Bertha Warren and John Coan Otts Sr., he was born in Spartanburg, S.C. August 14, 1909. He was educated in Spartanburg public schools and at Wofford College, graduating in 1930. He later earned a master's degree in English at Vanderbilt University, a master's in Education and an Ed. D in School Administration at Columbia University in New York.

His career in public education spanned the period from 1931 to 1961 which included the Great Depression, World War II, the post-war, baby boom and the beginning of desegregation, all causes of education upheaval. For eight years he was a teacher of English, mathematics, journalism and public speaking in Spartanburg High School, where he also was head of the English Department and school-year book adviser
For the four following years he served as principal in two Spartanburg schools. In 1945 he became principal of Charlotte Central High, succeeding Dr. Elmer H. Garinger and Dr. I.E. Ready. As leader of one of the largest high schools in North Carolina, he won acclaim for instant Discipline, crisp communication and an ability to inspire both teachers and students. He was fondly remembered for abrupt 'three-day' dismissals of students who misbehaved.

 At faculty meetings Otts encouraged teachers to challenge students with the most advanced material to bring out the best within them and prepare them for college or the workplace. In addition to being principal, he often taught courses in speech, psychology and family living. The latter included sex education, at the time a forbidden subject in many households. He also took part in school theatricals, faculty-student basketball games and various skits.

He took a great interest in students and privately helped many find the means to further their education. He would call a college admissions director about a worthy student and ask that he find a place for him. For years after his principal-ship he was often a guest at high school reunions, delighting alumni with his wit and self-deprecating humor. He showed a warm and engaging side of himself that former students had rarely seen. He left Central High in 1955 to become assistant superintendent for personnel and public relations and later for instruction in Charlotte city schools. When Charlotte schools were desegregated in the fall of 1957, he led in planning the procedure, overseeing school and class assignment, working with police and briefing the press.

 In 1960, as Charlotte and Mecklenburg County school systems were merged, he became assistant superintendent for instruction though-out the system. A year later, when many Charlotteans expected Dr. Otts to succeed Elmer Garinger as superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Otts resigned to become professor of education at what was then Queens College. The move enabled the merged school system to hire an outsider unaffiliated with either of of its previously separate systems.

During his Charlotte career, Otts was an active member of Covenant Presbyterian Church where he was an elder and for over 20 years taught the Men's Bible Class. He also was a member and president of the Charlotte Civitan Club. From Queens College he move to UNC-Chapel Hill where he was a professor of education and often taught off-campus acting dean of the UNC School of Education for one year.

 In the fall of 1967, he returned to his native state as dean of the College of Education at the University of South Carolina at Columbia. As dean and afterward he often taught prisoners at night helping them earn their GEDs. Dr. Otts was a member of many professional and academic associations and a consultant on many academic committees. The Wofford College Alumni Association presented Dr. Otts its Distinguished Alumni Award for outstanding achievement and service.

In the summer of 1975, he retired and with his wife, Lou, enjoyed extensive travel. A number of their travels were in conjunction with academic seminars. He was called from retirement in 1979-80 to serve as interim president of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education at Richmond, VA, later renamed Union Theological Seminary-PSCE.

In 1985, Dr. Otts and his wife moved to Highland Farms Retirement Community in Black Mountain where he assumed many leadership roles. He was president of the Residents association, a lecturer at resident-enrichment programs, editor and frequent contributor to the community newsletter and participant in 'readers theater' productions, especially Shakespeare. He was also a member of the local Kiwanis Club and a volunteer in the 'terrific kids' program in local schools. He again tutored prison inmates, helping them earn their GEDs.

 He began a long struggle against macular degeneration, but through the books on tape program of the Library of Congress, he was able to continue his love of reading and kept up with current events. Still in firm voice and good memory, he was sustained by visits from his children and former students who dropped by to thank him for his positive impact on their lives and the way he ran their schools. Gradually, his health declined, his strength ebbed, his voice softened and his marvelous memory began to fade.

He was predeceased by his beloved wife, Lou Smith Otts of 58 years and by his sister, Elizabeth Wofford Otts of Spartanburg. He is survived by four daughter, Rebecca Fant and her husband Robert of Pendleton, S.C.,; Charlotte Otts of Grants, N.M., Beverly Monroe of Decatur, Ga; Sally Rogers of Charleston, S.C. and seven grandchildren.

In lieu fo flowers, the family asks that memorials be sent to the Wofford College Alumni Fund (Class of 1930) 429 N. Church St., Spartanburg, SC 29303; Union Theological Seminary-PSCE, 3401 Brook Rd., Richmond, VA; or Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, Montreat Rd., Black Mountain, NC 28711. .

Published in Charlotte Observer on June 18, 2010