Charles A. Armstrong, 1919-2001
Other colleagues in the field of education saw Armstrong as a driving influence in their lives, too.
One of Everett's more unpleasant tasks was taking the occasional disciplinary action against students who got out of line. "The joke at the time was that I would send a student home through the front door and Charlie would bring them back through the back door," Everett laughed. "But you knew he really cared about every single student who came up."
Robert Turnage, who joined the Meridian High athletic staff in 1967 and spent 28 years in the system before becoming superintendent of Philadelphia schools in 1995, visited briefly with his mentor two weeks ago.
Turnage remembered one case of a particularly undisciplined student having an intense, heart-to-heart with Armstrong. After what seemed like hours, the student finally said, Mr. Armstrong, if you'll just quit talking I'll never do it again,' Turnage recalled.
Other educators whose professional paths crossed with Armstrong's remembered him, too.
Melba Clark was teaching at Kate Griffin Junior High when Harris was named principal of Meridian High in 1980. While she didn't work directly under Armstrong, she was asked to transfer to Meridian High to teach English and was interviewed by Armstrong for the position as he was preparing for retirement.
Mrs. Clark ended up making the transfer to MHS, where she taught senior English until her own retirement from teaching in 1990. She now operates Clark Memorial Funeral Home and other business ventures.
She also remembers her husband running into Armstrong at a local drug store recently, where they "teased each other about getting old," she said.
Lester Williamson, a 1970 MHS graduate and now an attorney and municipal court judge in Meridian, said, "Charlie Armstrong is one of those people who loved his family and loved his students unconditionally. That kind of unconditional love is rare these days.
While his immediate family would find their own careers eight of them in educational fields Armstrong's oldest son, Andy, remembers him best as a father figure to an extended family.
As a young football coach in Brookhaven, Armstrong's team won the Big 8 football championship. He went on to play professional football for franchises in New York.
He also saw duty with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during World War II, returning home to earn a master's degree from the University of Alabama.
Armstrong came to Meridian as head football coach and athletic director in 1953.
Married 59 years to his wife, Margaret, they enjoyed traveling across the country, camping out in a tent Andy remembers as somewhat more than primitive comfortable mattress with fitted sheets and lights strung overhead.
The influence of Charles and Margaret Armstrong over the young people in their community continues to run deep.
If public high schools do in fact become a repository for human fears and frailties, the problems of adolescence and the ills of society, so, too, do they become a community's best hope for a brighter future. In the case of Meridian High in 1970, there was no substitute for a devoted principal's personal interest in a student.
And in another telling comment, Barnes said, "In every situation that came up, the amazing thing about him was his absolute ability to focus on the other person. There has never been a more unselfish man … he had no other interest other than the best interest of the students."
The 1970 issue of "Reverie," the Meridian High School yearbook, presented Armstrong as undergoing "perhaps the greatest executive challenge of his career" in that first year of desegregation. The book continued, "He has met many diverse problems with competence, strength and a healthy state of mind."
He took pride in the achievement of his students and walked with them through many of their darkest personal moments, encouraging them to be their best, somehow convincing them through the force of his own will that they could do great things.
Many of them probably the majority are making successes of their own lives, touched by the guiding hand of a man who took no greater pleasure than seeing one of his "children" reach their full potential.
Buddy Bynum is editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3213, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.