Good Man Gone
The faculty and students of Cliffside School were stunned in the Spring of 1935 when their principal, Rupert Leary, was killed in an automobile wreck. The next issue of the Purple Cloud, the school paper, was devoted entirely to the man and the event. Here are excerpts from the Purple Cloud stories.
The wreck, which caused the death of Mr. Leary and the injury of the five pupils with him, happened when the car in which they were traveling crashed into a truck loaded with empty beer bottles, near Troy, in Montgomery county, Thursday morning, April 11. Mr. Leary and five students, Grace Scruggs, Elizabeth Hendrick, David Colvin, Harry Hendrick and Howard Talbert, all high school students, were en route to Chapel Hill to participate in the state triangular debates. According to reports the accident occurred about nine o'clock on the highway between Albemarle and Troy where the highway crosses the small Uwharrie Mountain chain, when the car sideswiped the truck.
Mr. Leary was first taken to Troy and then to Albemarle, where he died.
Elizabeth Hendrick was the most seriously injured, suffering a fractured pelvis bone. She was taken to the Stanley General Hospital, at Albemarle, but has since been moved to the Rutherford Hospital. She has as her nurse Mrs. Baldwin, of Albemarle.
Each of the others received cuts and bruises.
Our Mr. Leary
Rupert L. Leary, late principal of the Cliffside public school, was born in Cleveland county, North Carolina, October 13, 1902.
His grammar grade days were spent at the Piedmont school, Lawndale, N. C. where he finished in 1920. In the fall of the same year he took his place among those entering the eighth grade at Haywood Institute, Clyde, N. C. During his four years at the Institute the boy Rupert was an excellent student, popular with pupils and teachers. Taking an active part in all school activities, he was especially outstanding in debating and oratory. As valedictorian of his class, he was graduated with the distinction that well befitted so worthy a student.
The young man who entered Furman University, Greenville, S.C. in the fall of 1924 was no different from the fine boy who had finished high school the previous spring. The sterling qualities of the boy only became more firmly embedded in the soul of the youth; and a splendid young manhood was the result.
Despite the fact that a part of his time was devoted to his work with "The Greenville News," a position which enabled him in part to meet his own college expenses, our Mr. Leary maintained throughout his college course a high scholastic standing, rating as second honor student each year. After his graduation from Furman, he attended three summer school terms at Duke University for the purpose of studying school administration.
Mr. Leary was elected to the superintendency of Ward High school, Ward, S.C. for the year immediately following his graduation. He left there to accept a position as teacher of English in the Rutherfordton-Spindale High School in the fall of 1929. From 1930 through 1934 he was principal of the Spindale elementary school. This position he resigned to go into a business partnership with Mr. Jarvis of Rutherfordton-Spindale.
On December 23, 1933, Mr. Leary was married to Miss Gertrude Jones of Peachland, N.C. who was at the time a teacher in the Spindale elementary school.
Mr. Leary came to us in November, 1934, upon the resignation of Mr. J.J. Tarleton. [Mrs. Leary also came to Cliffside from Spindale, trading places with first-grade teacher Miss Anzie Phillips.] He was not long in proving himself the leader that we had expected from his excellent recommendations. The school prospered under his management; and we soon came to look upon him as our own.
Early in March, 1935, Mr. Leary undertook the organization and direction of a high school debating club. Under his watchful supervision, the teams composed of Grace Scruggs, senior; and Howard Talbert, David Colvin and Harry Hendrick, juniors, with Elizabeth Hendrick, junior, as alternative, developed rapidly into a group of strong debaters. We rejoiced with Mr. Leary and them upon their defeat of the opposing teams from Ellenboro and Pleasant Gardens. For the first time in seven years, the Cliffside debaters were to enter the state contest at Chapel Hill.
Early on the morning of April 11, Mr. Leary and the debaters were en route to Chapel Hill. At ten o'clock the school and community were stunned to hear of the accident that took Mr. Leary from us.
Kind, generous, courteous, Mr. Leary was a man among men. The magnetism of his personality won for him innumerable friends. And his magnanimity of soul gained the admiration of all who knew him. It is with the greatest love and esteem that we remember one who was our friend.
We cannot say that he is gone, for his spirit has lingered with us since his departure. And the splendid example that he set for us will forever dwell within our hearts, a living symbol of what Mr. Leary meant to the boys and girls of Cliffside.
Friend, teacher, counselor, and leader — he was all of these and more. As friend to friend, he discussed our problems with us. He shared our joys and sorrows; and we loved him. Jovial, congenial, and lovable, he belonged to us.
When in need of advice, we always felt free to turn to Mr. Leary; we knew that he would do what was best for us. Teacher and counselor, he never scolded; he only helped.
He was our leader. His soul shall ever serve to direct our footsteps into those better paths that he was wont to trod.
Every inch a man, every act a blessing, every word an inspiration, Mr. Leary was ours.
About 1,500 people attended the last rites for Mr. Leary, held Saturday morning, April 13, at eleven o'clock at the Cliffside Baptist church. The services were conducted by his pastor, Rev. J. A. Hunnicutt assisted by Rev. Chas. Maddry, pastor of the First Baptist church of Spindale, and Rev. H. E. Stimpson, pastor of the Cliffside Methodist church. The church auditorium was filled to its capacity.
Immediately after the services his body was taken to Peachland, in Anson county, where interment took place at four o'clock Saturday afternoon.
The honorary pallbearers were the teachers of our school, the county and local school boards and others, as follows:
H. M. Raper, Mrs. H. L. Robertson, Misses Eudora Dover, Jean Freeman, Sarah Rikard, Hattie Sue Whitesides, Corene Bookout, Letha Bame, Sarah Knox, Emma Lee Hilliard, Annabelle Logan, Louise Blair, Amanda Haynes, Virginia Owens, Frances Buckner, Naomi O'Neal, Emily Phillips, Alice David, Mrs. John Tinkler, E. B. Simmons; County Board of Education, W.W. Nanney, J. T. Harris and J. C. Hames, County Superintendent, J.J. Tarleton, and the local school board, Messrs Chas. H. Haynes, C. L. Scruggs and R. B. Watkins.
The flower girls were selected from the senior and junior classes, of the high school as follows:
Mildred Stimson, Ethylyn Keeter, Ethylyn Roberson, Lillie Belle Blanton, Elise Crawford, Geraldine McCurry, Eloise Ramsey, Pearle Ferree, Kathleen Harris, Genie Greene, Marie Hamrick, Inez Biggerstaff, Helen Price, Ruth Jonas, Macy Ramsey, Shirley Crawford, Dorothy Moore and Maude Scruggs.
It was an exceptional job of journalism on the part of these young high school writers. Here's the list of the Purple Cloud staff for that year.
Our thanks to staffer Shirley Crawford Thompson for providing this and many other issues of the ambitious and outstanding newspaper.
A version of this story appeared in the Winter 2011 edition of The Cliffside Chimes, the Society's newsletter.