By Curt Yeomans
Two longtime friends, one an educator and the other the founder of a popular restaurant chain, will see their names on Clayton County Public Schools facilities in the future.
The Clayton Board of Education voted 7-0, during its business meeting on Monday, to name the school system's forthcoming kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school, near Lovejoy, after former school board member, Eddie J. White. Board members Trinia Garrett and Jessie Goree did not attend the meeting.
The board then gave Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy's name to the district's two-year-old professional learning center in Jonesboro, also by a 7-0 vote.
White and Cathy, who have known each other for more than 50 years, had both had their names nominated, during a public input period, for the K-8 school. Earlier in the meeting, John Dixon, assistant to Chick-fil-A Chief Executive Officer Dan Cathy (Truett's son), read a letter from Truett Cathy, asking that his name not be considered for the school, so it could be named after White.
"The community has spoken, and the board has spoken, and the board has worked together to find a way to honor both of them," said Schoolboard Chairperson Alieka Anderson. "The board took into account Mr. Cathy's desire to see the school named after Eddie White, as well as all of the contributions Mr. Cathy has made to education."
The facilities will be named the Eddie J. White K-8 Academy, and the Truett Cathy Professional Learning Center. The 80-classroom, K-8 school, which will be located at 11808 Panhandle Road, in Hampton, is scheduled to open in August of 2010. It is being built at a cost of $25.9 million, according to school system construction documents.
White and Truett Cathy have known each other since White was a cook for the Chick-fil-A founder at the Dwarf Grill in Forest Park in 1955. At that time, White was trying to raise money to attend Morris Brown College, using a collection jar at the restaurant, and when that did not yield enough money, Cathy wrote a check to cover the difference.
"They were friends when it wasn't even popular," said Schoolboard member Mary Baker, who succeeded White in the board's District 6 seat, referring to the fact that White, who is black, and Truett Cathy, who is white, were friends during an era of segregation.
White went on to be a teacher, and later, an administrator in Clayton County Public Schools, from 1961 to his retirement in 1996. He said he then became a "substitute administrator," filling in for school administrators when they had to go on leave. He was elected to the District 6 seat on the Clayton County Board of Education in 2004, and served in that position until resigning in 2008.
In the letter read to the board by Dixon, Truett Cathy said he was honored that his name was being considered, but asked that the board "relinquish" consideration of his name, and recommended the school be named in honor of White.
"I would be more honored and more pleased if the school could be named after Eddie White," Truett Cathy wrote. "I know no one that has contributed more to the development of young people with a heart of concern than Eddie White ..."
White said he did not find out about Truett Cathy's request to the board until he saw Dixon at the school board meeting Monday night. "I was not aware this was going to happen until the last minute," White said. "I'm really honored by that. It really is something to have a building named after you. This school system has never named a school after a living person before."
In naming the Professional Learning Center after Truett Cathy, Anderson said the school system was paying respect to a man whom she felt should have been recognized sooner.
While White went on to become an educator, Truett Cathy went on to help more employees when the restaurant company he built began offering scholarships to employees in 1973. Chick-fil-A recently celebrated the distribution of its 25,000th scholarship in August.
"Can you imagine, he's been honored around the world for all of the good work he has done for people, and we finally brought this long overdue recognition to him, in the county in which he lives," Anderson said.