John Crowder, who served on Union County school boards for 31 years and last week offered the surprise motion to approve a controversial redistricting plan before a rowdy and upset crowd, died Sunday from a stroke. He was 77.
Crowder, a Monroe resident, had a “massive brain stroke” around 1:30 p.m. Sunday, his wife, Minnie, said. She said her husband had been in bed and was getting up around the time that he died, adding, “He was in perfect health.”
In a statement, Superintendent Mary Ellis praised Crowder. “Mr. Crowder had long been one of my heroes, a quiet, unassuming gentleman whose word and gravitas had far reach for children.”
News of Crowder’s sudden death whipped through the community, where crowds gathered Sunday to protest redistricting at a rally in Wesley Chapel.
Residents who had turned to social media to blast Crowder and other board members for approving the plan returned to those same websites to express condolences. This Facebook comment was typical: “My heart hurts for all who knew him. He was such a wonderful man.”
Crowder was the longest-tenured school board member at Union County Public Schools and had served on that board continually since Union County’s and Monroe’s districts merged in 1993 to form the current district, school spokesman Rob Jackson said. Crowder also spent a decade on the Monroe board before the merger.
“He was a tireless champion for children,” Jackson said, “and his leadership will be missed.”
Defending the vote
Many parents have been fighting the board for months over the redistricting plan to ease overcrowding.
Last Tuesday’s meeting agenda did not indicate a final vote would take place but said there would be “discussion of options to alleviate overcrowding.” After the board approved Crowder‘s motion, some in the crowd wept while others were escorted out of the meeting room by security.
In an interview with the Observer on the night after the meeting, Crowder said he had written out his motion before the meeting and alerted some of his board colleagues ahead of time that he was going to introduce it. He said he did not recall whom he told or when, but said he did not coordinate his plans with anyone.
“It’s not a done deal until the vote is taken,” Crowder said, in defending his actions. He said he had dealt with many redistrictings over the years, and people were always upset if it affected them.
The board had been considering its first districtwide redistricting, and moving about 5,800 of 41,800 students, or about 14 percent of the student population, to a different school. The plan was modified last week so it would impact about 8 percent of students, a school official said.
Representing the Monroe area
Crowder represented District 1, which covered Monroe and neighboring areas. His term was set to expire in November 2016.
A retired manager from Belk Department Store, Crowder earned an associate of arts degree in business administration from Central Piedmont Community College in 1968, the district website said.
He would have turned 78 on March 25, according to the website. He has one daughter, Faye Crowder Phillips, the website said.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately available Sunday night.