THOMASVILLE — When “Papa D” makes the last cross-campus ride this year on his familiar yellow golf cart, it will mark the end of a long journey as a Thomas County educator.

Frank Delaney, principal at Thomas County Central High since 1993, announced Friday that he will be retiring at the end of the year.

Teachers and former students invariably described Delaney, 64, as a fair and steady disciplinarian who fostered learning throughout his nearly 40 years in the Thomas County School System.

“He’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever known,” said David Cone, who was a student at the old Central High School from 1978-1982 when Delaney was assistant principal. “He’s a class act. He inspired many people to do better. When you think what a quality educator is ... He was called to be an educator.”

Cone said that Delaney was well-loved by all his students and could maintain their respect even as he joked around with them.

“I had several spankings by him, and I deserved every one of them,” he said. “He was very even-handed. He would talk to you like a father and explain why you were going to get your punishment. Papa D was always fair.

“There’s no telling how many lives he’s influenced in a positive way. He’s been good to me and good to my family and good to my children.”

Replacing Delaney, who has been in the system since starting as a teacher in 1969, will not be easy, Superintendent Jean Quigg said. Delaney, who also was assistant principal at the high school from 1972-1993, taught Quigg ninth-grade algebra.

“He was a master teacher,” she said. “I’m sure that’s why he’s been such a good administrator — because he was such a good teacher.”

Delaney, who didn't want to talk about his retirement, has mentioned retirement several times in the past but has always postponed it, Quigg said.

“He’s always come back, probably because he loves the kids,” she said. “This morning he sent in the paperwork.”

Since administrators sign contracts in February, the timing of Delaney’s announcement leaves enough window of opportunity to find a replacement before the end of the school year, Quigg said.

“He promised me when he made the decision he would give us (time) to find the appropriate person, because he is going to be so hard to replace,” she said. “He is truly an icon. He is absolutely one of the most respected men in Thomasville and Thomas County.”

The job opening will be announced next week and applications will be accepted through mid-November. Applications will be reviewed and interviews will take place through December, and Quigg will give school board members an update during the first January meeting.

Finalists will be interviewed again and plans are to have a recommendation to the board Jan. 22.

“We definitely need someone who is as strong in curriculum as Mr. Delaney, who knows how to be a leader, who understands students and their needs and can promote community relationships,” Quigg said. “It also has to be someone who’s a learning leader. Student achievement has got to be the focus, being able to look at data and how we can move forward.

“I want somebody with a big heart like Mr. Delaney (and) who has his passion and compassion for the job.”

Floyd Guice, an English teacher in the system from 1972-1994, described Delaney as an efficient educator who showed his concern for teachers and students.

“He would go to bat for either one,” Guice said. “He was a man of sincerity. He was a Christ-centered man and his decisions were based on that.”

Guice said that Delaney’s caring was displayed once when one of his family members had an illness and Delaney “went out of his way” to help find a suitable nursing home in which to place the family member.

Delaney also is well-known for his weekend trips to mow the lawns of those who can’t do so themselves, Guice said.

“He has always done that,” he said. “He would go to Cairo even, wherever he could be of help to the elderly or the disabled, Frank Delaney would be there. In fact I think he even worked on the school grounds, too. On several occasions he has come up and worked in my yard.

“The title the community has laid on him, ‘Papa D,’ fits him to a ‘T.’ ”

Family consumer science teacher Gail Stewart, who has taught in the county schools since 1973, said Delaney has always focused on supporting students and staff members, who are like family.

“He looks at the whole child, not just academics,” Stewart said. “He wants them to succeed. He wants them to feel good about themselves. He’s kind of the patriarch of our staff.”

Having a new principal walking the halls of the school will be a large transition, Stewart said.

“We certainly will miss him,” she said. “He has such a great rapport with the kids and the staff. It’s going to be a big pair of shoes to fill.”

Reporter Alan Mauldin can be reached by calling (229) 226-2400, ext. 226.

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