Joe Scott, the often outspoken member of the Richmond County Board of Education, died in his sleep Saturday morning.
Mr. Scott, 73, was pronounced dead at 9:11 a.m. at his home, said Richmond County Deputy Coroner Johnny McDonald. He died of natural causes and had suffered medical problems, Mr. McDonald said. He would not comment on the details of Mr. Scott's health issues.
Serving his second term on the board representing District 5, Mr. Scott was known for fighting for what he believed in, willing to go it alone if need be. In November, he was re-elected to another four-year term by an overwhelming majority, garnering more than 74 percent of the vote. In his first term on the school board, Mr. Scott served two years as vice president.
Schools superintendent Dana Bedden, who occasionally clashed with Mr. Scott, said in a statement that he and his family were saddened by the news, calling him a valuable member of the school system.
"During my tenure as Superintendent of Schools, it has been my observation and belief that Mr. Scott always tried to do what he believed in his heart was right for our school system, the education of children, and the city of Augusta," Dr. Bedden said. "On a personal note, my wife and I would like to publicly thank Mr. Scott and his wife for the time they joined us in celebrating our daughter's birthday and allowing our children to play with his grandchildren. While he will be truly missed by the Richmond County School System, I will miss him deeply both professionally and personally."
Other school officials had similar praise for Mr. Scott, whose political experience also included time on the Augusta Aviation Commission and the Richmond County Coliseum Authority.
"He did those things he believed would benefit the community," school board President Marion Barnes said Saturday. "He really believed in what he was doing."
The two lifelong educators, who grew up together, butted heads at times, but he said Mr. Scott would never let those disagreements affect their friendship.
Mr. Barnes said Mr. Scott always set aside politics when it came to doing the work of the school board. They taught together, played football together and both graduated from Paine College.
Board member Eloise Curtis, who taught alongside Mr. Scott at Josey High School, described him as someone willing to dig up information, track down issues and ask tough questions.
"We are going to miss ole Joe," she said.
Mr. Scott was a good-hearted person, who played point guard on the basketball team growing up, Ms. Curtis said.
Fellow board member Helen Minchew recalled a conference in Savannah when she had car trouble. Mr. Scott made sure she made it to a mechanic and stayed close by during the drive back to Augusta to ensure her car didn't break down.
"He took time to make sure that I was taken care of and that I made it back safe to Augusta, Mrs. Minchew said. "He was really quite helpful."
Mr. Scott always tried to do what was right, she said.
That drive, however, sometimes created friction among board members. Mr. Scott tirelessly pushed particular issues, unafraid to press sensitive subjects.
He continually questioned the need for separate Garrett and National Hills elementary schools, two small west Augusta schools less than a mile apart.
And he fought for more minority and women-owned businesses to get contracts with the school system.
Among his controversies while on the school board, Mr. Scott also took fellow board member Venus Cain to court. He sought to have her arrested, accusing her of threatening to beat him up during a closed-door meeting.
Mr. Scott joined the school board after retiring from the school system, where he worked as a teacher, assistant principal and principal at Levi White and Jenkins elementary schools.
During his campaigns, he frequently touted his goals of transparency, accountability and equity.
"I ran on transparency, accountability and equity, and I stuck to that," Mr. Scott said on election night in November. "People know me and know what I stand for."
Mr. Scott and board member Barbara Pulliam often held joint community gatherings and forums for their constituents. At some of the meetings, he brought members of the school board's central offices into their districts to meet directly with the residents they represent.
And he was highly visible in the community.
"He always went to everything as for any community or school function," Mrs. Minchew said. "He always seemed to take the time."
In May 2008, he opened up about his life while speaking to students at Glenn Hills High School in hopes of encouraging them to rise above their circumstances and become successful.
"My mother died when I was 2. My father left me when I was 2," Mr. Scott told the students. "I could have had any excuse to fail and not be anything and blame it on somebody else.
"You can't let people tell you what you're going to be and be it. They defeat you."
Mr. Scott is survived by his wife, Patsy, and three sons. Mays Mortuary is handling funeral arrangements, which will be announced later.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or email@example.com.
FILLING THE VACANCY ON THE SCHOOL BOARD
The Richmond County Board of Elections will meet Monday to determine when Joe Scott's seat on the school board can be filled, school board attorney Pete Fletcher said.
According to the school board's charter, the election must be held on the next special election date, but no sooner than 50 days from the time the seat becomes vacant, Mr. Fletcher said. The next special election date is Sept. 15, but the 50-day deadline is close, which could push back an election to Nov. 3.
Mr. Scott's term ends Dec. 31, 2012.