Sunday afternoon, despite months of illness and declining health, Franklin Douglass told his only child, Karl, he wanted to go out for Father’s Day lunch.
“He was at the point where getting out was difficult,” Karl said.
Once the noon rush passed, Karl and his wife, Tonya, went to Bonefish Grill with his parents for a late lunch.“We talked about stuff,” Karl said. “We talked about being grateful for life. We were able to enjoy a nice lunch as a family.”
It is a memory Karl said he will cherish for many years.
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Franklin Douglass, 78, died Tuesday afternoon. He was a longtime Columbus educator, working primarily for the Muscogee County School District as a teacher, coach, principal and administrator before retiring in 1990. Douglass was also involved with the Housing Authority of Columbus for about three decades, including a number of years as chairman.
The funeral will be Tuesday at 11 a.m. in Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church, where he was a longtime deacon. Visitation will be from 3-6 p.m. Monday at Progressive Funeral Home.
Douglass was the chairman of the Housing Authority board that brought Len Williams to Columbus as the organization’s executive director nearly a decade ago. The two men developed a strong friendship.
“Franklin Douglass was one of the finest men I ever met in my life,” Williams said. “I valued his leadership, his advice and his friendship.”
Douglass was remembered on Wednesday as a leader throughout the community.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop has known Douglass since the early 1970s when they were both members of Fourth Street Baptist. Bishop said he often sought out Douglass for advice, describing him as “one of the cooler heads in dealing with community issues and problems.”
“He was soft-spoken, quiet and thoughtful,” Bishop said. “He was an outstanding principal at Spencer High School; he was a longtime leader at the Housing Authority; he was always active in his church, Fourth Street Baptist, as well as his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.”
Douglass was a principal at the elementary, junior high and high school level. His longest stint came at William H. Spencer High, where he was principal from 1976 to 1988. He left that post to spend his final two years with the school district as director of student services.
Harry Vernon worked alongside Douglass many years in the Muscogee County School District. While Douglass was principal at Spencer, Vernon was the principal at Carver High.
“He was a family man and a school man,” Vernon said.
Douglass also had a steady and forthright leadership style, Vernon said.
“He was not prone to run off on a tangent,” Vernon said. “He was always more concerned about what was good for the whole.”
After Douglass left education and focused his retirement years on the Housing Authority, Williams saw that leadership style come into play as the agency was proposing to tear down Baker Village and replaced it with a mixed-income housing complex.
“We would not have gotten it done without him,” Williams said. “He was politically savvy and he understood what we had to do to make it happen.”
The reason, Vernon said, was that Douglass understood how Columbus worked and was in a trusted position of leadership.
“He stayed abreast of what was going on in the city,” Vernon said. “That is what enabled him to make those kinds of decisions.”
“He was so calm,” Williams said. “He could see the other side of an issue with clarity. And he knew how to navigate and mediate two parts of an issue.”
Douglass’ death caused his pastor, Johnny Flakes H. Jr., of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist to take a moment of reflection.
“And I thought about it in one word — commitment,” Douglass said. “Deacon Douglass was committed to his church and ministry, to teaching and education, and to the community and helping the needy. His life was one of commitment. When you talk about servant leadership, he was truly a servant leader.”
Douglass was raised on a farm in Limestone County, a rural area of north Alabama near Madison. He went to Tuskegee Institute, where he graduated as part of the ROTC program in 1958 and served more than six years as an officer in the U.S. Army. Douglass left the service in 1964 when he was honorably discharged at Fort Benning.Douglass is survived by his wife of nearly 55 years, Merrian; son, Karl, and his wife Tonya; and granddaughter, Temple.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that those who wish make a contribution to the Fourth Street Baptist Church Scholarship Fund in Franklin Douglass’ honor.
Six years ago, Douglass moved into the home behind his son’s house.
Flakes watched, and was impressed by the relationship Douglass had with Temple.
“He made sure that Temple had a strong spiritual foundation,” Flakes said.
Having his parents move close to his family turned out to be a wise decision, Karl Douglass said.
“We were talking one day and he said he was so grateful that we made that decision,” Douglass said. “He said it was the best