Fayette BoE to decide Oct. 3 on Tolbert replacement process

Fayette County Board of Education member Sam Tolbert passed away in the afternoon hours of Sept. 22. The first-term Post 5 board member and educator had struggled with esophageal cancer.

Tolbert, 64, was elected to the Board of Education in November 2010 and took office in January. He was a semi-retired senior manager who had served as an adjunct professor of mathematics at Gordon College in Barnesville.

The long-time Fayette County resident loved education and spent a lot of his life teaching, said wife Lynn Tolbert.

School board Chairman Bob Todd late last week said Tolbert had been in hospice care for the past two weeks and had passed away during the mid-afternoon hours Sept. 22 while at a hospice facility in Snellville.

The school board at a called meeting to be held on Oct. 3 will discuss the procedure to be used to fill the Post 5 post held by Tolbert. The person appointed will serve for the remainder of the unexpired term through 2014.

“Any and all discussions by the BOE or action by the board relating to filling the vacancy must be in open session. If the BOE does not fill the vacancy within 45 days, the Governor has the authority to fill the vacancy. As to what procedures the board should follow, it is totally up to the BOE. The procedures will be an agenda item at the called meeting to be held on Oct. 3,” said school system spokesperson Melinda Berry-Dreisbach.

It was more than a year ago that Tolbert’s late-stage cancer was discovered. That discovery came when a nurse spotted it on his liver during an echocardiogram.

The case progressed more recently to Stage 4 — the final and most serious of four stages — meaning that the metastatic cancer has spread to distant sites in the body.

Reflecting on his passing, school board member Terri Smith cited Tolbert’s impact on the school system during his time on the Fayette County Board of Education.

“I am truly and deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Tolbert. I extend my sympathies to his family. His strength as he fought his illness while he fought for the school children of Fayette County was amazing. His optimism was unparalleled,” said Smith. “Even when he was obviously very sick, he told me that he planned to fight for his life and finish whatever he set out to do. He was so proud of his children and especially his baby granddaughter. He beamed whenever he spoke of her. He will be missed.”

Todd in his comments noted the contribution made by Tolbert to the Fayette County community.

“I only knew Sam for a short time, but he was someone you instantly liked. He was a good guy,” Todd said. “And he was a very good board member. As a friend and colleague I will miss him. And my sympathies and that of the school board and school system go out to his family.”

Tolbert prior to his election pledged to focus on the Fayette school system’s budget. Tolbert kept his word, and during his time on the board maintained the posture as a fiscal conservative.

”While I only had the opportunity to work with Dr. Tolbert for eight short months, I always found him to be very conscientious, approachable, intelligent, and caring. He loved Fayette County schools and was eager to serve the children of our community. He will be missed,” said Superintendent Jeff Bearden.

Also commenting on Tolbert’s work on the Fayette County Board of Education was board member Janet Smola.

“Sam Tolbert was a delightful man with a quick wit and kind spirit. My heart goes out to his family for their loss. I enjoyed working with him and shall miss his perspective on issues we face as a board,” Smola said.

School board member Marion Key mirrored the comments of others, noting Tolbert’s amiable disposition and his willingness to tackle the difficult financial issues facing the Fayette County School System.

“We express our sympathy to his wife, Lynn, his children and the rest of the family. We will miss Sam. He was very smart and very knowledgeable about financial matters. We were depending on him for advice about our $10 million budget shortfall. Also, we will miss his cheerful disposition and his stories,” Key said.

Among Tolbert’s accomplishments were:

• Board member with Georgia Tech International Standards & Quality, Southern Tech Center for Quality;

• Conducted continuing educational classes for Georgia Tech, Southern Tech and Dale Carnegie Institute;

• Co-founder, board member and lead auditor for Georgia Oglethorpe Award;

• Awarded Pioneer of the Year Award by Georgia Oglethorpe Committee for Organizational Turn Around at Scientific Atlanta Instrumentation Division; and

• Member of Rockwell International Management Team forging a documented nationally recognized organizational turnaround in a defense business Managed Quality Standards Division for major government contracts.

Tolbert is survived by his wife, Lynn, daughter Hannah Tolbert, of Fairburn, son Matthew Tolbert, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and mother Nan Stevenson, of Ellijay.

A memorial service for Tolbert will be held on Sept. 30 at 3 p.m. at the Carmichael-Hemperley Funeral Home located at 135 Senoia Road off Ga. Highway 74 in Peachtree City.