I grew up in rural Great Bridge in the 50’s and 60’s as one of five rambunctious, curious children: my older brother, Dennis; younger brother Stevie; and two younger sisters, Karen and Jo Rita. Like so many households in Great Bridge at the time, we were not a wealthy family. We managed thanks to the help of family and friends. My father was in the United States Navy, and it seemed that he was out to sea most of the time. My mother, with health issues of her own, struggled to raise the five of us alone. We relied on her father, Richard Benjamin Cooke, many, many times. My grandfather was a colorful and vibrant part of Great Bridge. He owned a hardware store and a variety store, two of the five or six businesses serving Great Bridge in that era. He was well known at Great Bridge High School, where his boys were always very active in high school sports. Not all that notoriety was flattering, but my grandfather’s intentions were good. He became rankled at and moved from Great Bridge upon the city fathers’ decision to install a traffic light at the corner of Cedar Road and Battlefield. The growth in Great Bridge was too fast for men like my grandfather way back then.
Highlights of my childhood included sandlot and back yard sports, camping out with my buddies, and childhood escapades while hanging out with my best friend and neighbor, Randy Forbes. In 1960, we were thrilled when Little League baseball was established for boys 8 to 15 years old. I had just turned eight that first summer of Little League baseball. Compared to my older and younger brothers’ athletic abilities, I was only an average ballplayer at best, despite my brothers’ instruction and all my efforts to improve to their level.
The most pivotal highlight of my childhood was entering as a scared young kid, studying hard, and graduating in 1970 from Great Bridge High School. That school exposed me to a genuine sense of community. More importantly, I met the most influential adult in my young life, Principal Harry Blevins who was appointed Principal in my junior year. Mr. Blevins helped me obtain loans and scholarships to attend Ferrum College and Old Dominion University, where I received my Associate and Bachelor’s Degrees. He and Herbert Ruffin were the first to offer me a teaching position after college. Four years later, Mr. Blevins recommended me to a unique program that allowed me to obtain my Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Virginia while interning at Indian River High School. As a struggling young teacher with two small children, I recognized that this was a perfect timing for transition to an administrative position in the Chesapeake School System.