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Sons remember father's impact on county schools

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Family members of a pivotal figure in Henry County's educational history, say his contributions to the area go well beyond those he made in the classroom.

The children of Randall Ponder, Sr., describe their father as a spiritual person, who lived his life according to the Golden Rule.

Ponder died Nov. 5 of cancer, at the age of 68. He served in several capacities within the Henry County Public School System, most notably as the first black principal of Henry County High School, after the institution was de-segregated.

During his career, he was also a regional director for the Georgia Department of Education.

Ponder obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from Clark College in Atlanta in 1961. He then earned teaching certifications from Atlanta University and Albany State College, as well as a Master's in Education from the University of Georgia.

At the time of his death, he was a candidate to receive a doctorate in education from Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Randall Ponder, II, of Riverdale, is the eldest son of the former educator, and a teacher, himself, in College Park. He says his father had a significant impact on schools in the area, at a turbulent time in the nation's history.

"He was very familiar with Henry County, and its issues regarding racial relations during the segregation period," he says. "He was a good selection to be a leader at that time, due to the social framework of [the area], as the school made the transition to integration."

Ponder notes that his father's admirable qualities included his "high-level thinking," and a desire for students to succeed in life. He says the former principal's impact on area schools will be felt for years to come. "He wanted all young people to have access to a quality education," he adds. "Henry County is renowned as one of the most progressive school systems in the state. If my father had done anything differently, it would have set the county back as a whole, regarding racial relations, and where they are now as a school system."

Ponder says in addition his dad's professional accomplishments, he was also deserving of respect for the way he conducted himself at home. "He was an outstanding father, and always emphasized treating people like he wanted to be treated," explains Ponder. "He was very firm and very fair, and always mandated we give our best effort."

Ponder's second son, 46-year-old Reginald Ponder, of Hampton, calls his father a man who "set high goals for himself" and continuously set out to achieve them. According to him, Randall Ponder, Sr., instilled the same values in his students. "I have gotten e-mails every day since my father's passing, from people who talk about how much he influenced them while they were in high school to continue their education," says Reginald.

"[He] was an exceedingly intelligent, soft-spoken man with a magnetic charisma that captivated everyone in his presence."

Reginald also notes his father's devotion to his family, which included 12 grandchildren. He says the educator made a conscious effort to be "an active part" of the kids' lives. "He routinely could be spotted sitting in the audience, during their school performances and sporting events," he continued. "He was always the life of every family event, in particular, birthday parties, family reunions and holiday celebrations."

Ponder's sons agree their father was loved and respected by his family and friends, as well as everyone he encountered in the school system.