Guy S. Potts, who served as superintendent of the Fayette County Schools from 1961 to 1984 and guided the district through periods of growth and controversy, died Wednesday. He was 87.
Mr. Potts died at Mayfair Manor in Lexington, where he had been living since developing health problems, his family said.
Mr. Potts was 36 when he came to the Fayette County Schools from Chattanooga, where he had been assistant superintendent of the city schools.
An Ohio native, he arrived in Lexington at a time when some Fayette schools were running double sessions to cope with overcrowding. He spent the next several years campaigning for higher taxes to improve the system.
In the late 1960s, Mr. Potts coordinated the merger of the county and city school districts, essentially doubling the size of the system overnight. He was credited with keeping the new system in the black, upgrading old schools, building new ones and introducing innovations.
For example, Fayette County schools were the first in Kentucky to develop procedures to identify students with learning disabilities. Mr. Potts promoted other ideas such as offering honors programs at junior high schools.
But some critics saw the superintendent as a stern, sometimes blustering leader who was quick to tell opponents just what he thought.
"I'm very outspoken," Mr. Potts said when he retired in 1984. "I say whatever I have to say to whomever it needs to be said. ... If I offended anyone, I'm sorry."
But associates said Thursday that there was another side to Mr. Potts.
"He came across publicly so many times as being gruff, but what many people missed was that he was so compassionate," said Joe David Martin, former assistant personnel director for the county district. Martin said Mr. Potts frequently told Martin to do things "on the QT" to help people, and often they were individuals with whom the superintendent had clashed.
"I guess he felt like he had to have that exterior if he was going to enforce policies consistently," Martin said. "It was rather like Harry Truman. The buck stopped on his desk, and he wanted it to stop exactly the same way for every situation."
Former Lexington Mayor Scotty Baesler said Mr. Potts ran "a tight ship, but I'm a strong believer in a tight ship."
He "was a strong character, and at that time I think you needed someone strong."
"Today, if he was that strong, you'd have people complaining because they don't want strength and discipline now," Baesler said. "I thought he really moved the school system forward."
Some of the rough spots during Mr. Potts' tenure included a weeklong teachers' strike in 1970 and battles over school desegregation. That clash began in 1971, when four parents sued the Fayette schools in U.S. District Court, saying the district wasn't complying with a federal directive to desegregate. The suit alleged the district had integrated its high schools while leaving other schools segregated.
Robert Jefferson, a longtime Lexington civil rights activist who was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said that the disagreement mainly was with the school board and not with Mr. Potts. He said Mr. Potts' integration of the county's high schools was perhaps his greatest accomplishment.
In 2003, almost 20 years after Mr. Potts retired from the school system, he was among a number of individuals named in a lawsuit by former student Carol Lynne Maner, who said that she was sexually abused as a student in the late 1970s and that district officials did nothing about it. Mr. Potts was dropped from the suit soon afterward. Maner eventually won a $3.7 million judgment.
Carol Komara, who served on the Fayette Board of Education during Mr. Potts' final years as superintendent, said he "always did things first for the children."
"Some people misjudged him for his strong stand on some things, but his ultimate goal was doing what was best for the students," she said. "Many people don't know this, but he always made sure the teachers received their salary increases, and several times he forfeited his own increases."
Survivors include his wife, Esther Hughes Potts; daughter Dianne Johnson, granddaughter Christy Broering; and great-granddaughter Anna Broering.
Private services are planned. Milward Funeral Directors, Southland, is in charge of arrangements.