GOAL Program News
Remembering Jerome Scott
Remembering Jerome Scott
"Any time you get people working toward one common goal, things have to happen in a positive light.” -E. Jerome Scott
It’s been nearly seventeen years since Jerome Scott, the beloved vice president and dean of student development and the first African-American to serve on Gardner-Webb’s senior staff, last strolled the campus in Boiling Springs. But stroll up to 10 people and ask them what they remember about Mr. Scott, and you’ll quickly find that his spirit is still very much alive.
Scott was only 40 when, during an administrative staff retreat in May 1995, he died suddenly of heart failure. The loss was felt keenly not only at Gardner-Webb but in the surrounding community. Scott had been one of the first seven black students to be integrated into previously white schools in Cleveland County. Battling racism and prejudice as a youngster, he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees before returning to Cleveland County, where he would spend the rest of his life working tirelessly to champion education and to bridge the gaps that, at one time, seemed insurmountable.
Scott taught at Cleveland Community College before beginning work as an instructor and recruiter in Gardner-Webb’s Greater Opportunities for Adult Learners (GOAL) program. By the time of his death, he had enjoyed an unprecedented rise through Gardner-Webb’s staff ranks, while also serving for more than a decade, including a stint as chair, with the Shelby City Schools Board of Education. A frequent speaker on racial reconciliation and minority awareness, Scott also served with the BB&T Advisory Board, the Council on Drug Abuse Prevention, the United Way of Cleveland Co., and the NAACP of Cleveland Co., to name a few.
But more than his resume, it’s Scott’s legacy as a beloved friend, colleague, and servant in the community that people still remember.
“First and foremost, he absolutely loved our students,” remembers Scoot Dixon, Scott’s colleague on the senior staff. “It didn’t matter their background, their race, their motivation for coming to college, their personality—he loved them all, and wanted the best for them.”
“What’s more, he was fair,” Dixon continued. Every one of Scott’s friends interviewed for this article agreed. “He was always fair,” said Gardner-Webb President Dr. Frank Bonner. “More than anything, he treated the students fairly,” said Audrey Sloan, Scott’s former student activities director. “No doubt, he was unyielding in matters of morality and policy, but he was fair,” said Noel Manning, the student entertainment chair during Scott’s time as dean.
“He could tell students “no,” or rule against them, and they’d still respect him because they knew they’d been treated fairly,” Dixon said. “You tell someone “no” and see if they like you for it. That’s extremely rare.”
When asked how he could hold such sway over people, Dixon mentioned his empathy and compassion for others, his eagerness to understand all sides of an issue, and his willingness to compromise—oh, and his sense of humor.
Once, Scott told Bonner, while he was working for a loan company, he was sent to a man’s house to collect an outstanding payment. As Scott approached the door, the man came out with a shotgun and said, “I know who you are. Don’t take another step.” Scott paused, thought, and asked “Can I take one more if it’s backward?”
“Oh, and he could sell ice to an Eskimo,” remembers Sloan. “He actually did sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door to pay his way through college,” said Bonner, who, as vice president for academic affairs, helped promote Scott to dean of students. “He liked to say that, once, he even sold a vacuum to a man whose house didn’t have electricity. Actually, the man bought it as a gift for his daughter, who did have power, but Jerome liked to leave that detail out.”
But perhaps his greatest “sell” was getting students to buy into their own potential, their own ability to shape the course of their futures. “He was almost like a talent scout,” remembers Noel Manning, who served as Scott’s student entertainment chair during his time as a Gardner-Webb student. “He would recognize your gifts, and then insist that you utilized them for the University’s good, or for the community’s good. If you didn’t, he’d let you know it disappointed him. He really made you understand that you were needed.”
“I think that’s why I had such tremendous respect for him,” Sloan said. “He held students to an extremely high standard. But it wasn’t just because he wanted to be tough or mean. It was because he respected them, he cared for them, and he wanted them to grow in college. He demanded that they have the same sort of respect for themselves, and for others. He was uncompromising when it came to that, and the students loved him for it.”
When Scott passed away, nearly 4,000 people attended his funeral at Gardner-Webb’s Lutz-Yelton Convocation Center. Many of them were students who had just returned home for summer vacation but who made the trip back to campus anyway. The Shelby Star ran not just one obituary, but multiple articles over the next several months about Scott’s legacy and his impact. The next fall, Gardner-Webb even sponsored a volunteerism fair in Scott’s honor, furthering his legacy of community engagement among the students he so dearly loved. Today, the E. Jerome Scott Gospel Choir invokes the memory of Scott’s passion for God, for music, and for togetherness and cooperation.
“It was just devastating for all of us to lose him,” said Dixon. “He had done so much to achieve racial reconciliation in our community, so much to champion our students at Gardner-Webb, so much to further education initiatives in Cleveland County, that the question honestly became not who, but how many people will it take to fill the void he left.”
“He was just one of the finest men I’ve ever known.”