A standing-room-only crowd gathered Thursday in the Phenix City Board of Education technology center to pay tribute to Florence Bellamy and her quarter-century of public service.
Last month, Bellamy asked Phenix City Council not to reappoint her to a sixth five-year term. The council appointed Zara Parham in her place.
"We have four children, we have grandchildren, and I want to spend time with them," she explained before the ceremony that honored her.
Bellamy was the board's first black and first woman to serve as president. She also was the first Phenix City resident to serve as president of the Alabama Association of School Boards.
A wave of officials came to the microphone to present proclamations and praise Bellamy for her 25 years on the board. They came from the AASB, the Alabama Legislature, the U.S. Congress, the Russell County Commission and the Phenix City Council. But it was the school board's vice president, Kelvin Redd, who summed up the collective sentiment when he said of Bellamy, "If I ever wrote a book on superior people in Phenix City, this woman right here would be in the top five."
When he joined the board, Redd said, he was told Bellamy was tough and mean. "But with Mrs. Bellamy here," he said, "what you see is what you get. When it's time to be tough, she's tough. When it's time to be sweet, she's sweet. When it's time to cry, she'll cry."
Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe, who served with Bellamy on the school board, thanked her "for inspiring the school system and all the transitions and things that you've seen. It takes a strong will, a commitment to do that, and you have shown it."
And that appreciation will be shown when the portrait of Bellamy that Redd helped her unveil is hung on the wall outside the boardroom. She will be the first woman among the four other former board members and nine former superintendents so honored.
"It's been a wonderful ride," Bellamy said before the ceremony. "A sense of relief but a sense of joy -- and some sadness, because I've watched some of these people graduate from high school, and that's the choking-up part. Some I've watched go through elementary school, and it's a joy to see them come out and to say thank you."
After the ceremony for Bellamy, the school board conducted its work session and official meeting. Here are highlights:
The board unanimously approved an increase of 25 cents for lunches, effective next school year. The prices will go from $2.25 to $2.50 for grades K-5 and from $2.50 to $2.75 for grades 6-12.
Josh Laney, the school system's energy management specialist, reported that the conservation program has saved $2,013,837 during the past 64 months. Cenergistic, a Dallas-based energy conservation company, ranked Phenix City's 32-percent savings as tied for No. 1 with Limestone County among its 16 clients who are Alabama public school systems.
In a passionate plea he equated to a sermon, Rod Hinton, the interim superintendent, called on the Phenix City Council to give the school system the $100,000 it already allocated for this school year and increase the sum next year, noting the "millions" the Auburn and Opelika city councils give their school systems.
"We've got good people on city council," Hinton said. "We've got good people in the banks. We've got good people in the businesses. We've got good people in the community. But, damn it, we better decide how good we want to be. Do we want to be good or do we want to be great?"
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.