run for another term on the Bryan County Board of Education, bringing to a close more than half a century of dedication to the school district.
"I’ve seen so many good things happen as we’ve moved forward," she said. "I don’t know of another community that’s worked so closely together. The board believes in the public school system and has continued improving it. We’ve seen other regional schools running away from problems, but we’ve stuck together and solved them ourselves. I do believe the good schools we’ve developed together in Bryan County have helped a lot of people and have helped the community grow."
Meeks isn’t originally from Bryan County, which she said most people don’t realize. She grew up on a farm in the town of Rebecca and graduated from the University of Georgia with a major in home economics, which is where she met her husband Walter.
"I adopted Richmond Hill as my home and started teaching moments after I got here," she said. "My mother taught me to be a teacher and turned me in this direction before I even realized it. She also taught me to ‘bloom where you are planted,’ and I’ve always tried to live by that."
Sometimes referred to as the ‘First Lady of Bryan County schools,’ Meeks first began teaching home economics and science at Richmond Hill High School in 1954, where she estimates 350 students were enrolled in 1st through 12th grade.
"Some students are still around from that very first class of mine and I enjoy seeing them," she said. "I also read articles about them; I meet their children; I enjoy their successes."
She taught locally and out of state for about a decade before settling down as an early elementary school teacher.
But her teaching experience doesn’t end there. She has taught early elementary right up to high school seniors – in every class from crafts to music to science. In fact, her longest teaching stint was for 10 years with 7th graders. Meeks said she loved teaching middle school.
"I felt like they changed so rapidly, I had a new class most every day. They’re a challenge and I like that," she said. "They’re at an age you can do so much to help them find out who they are."
In 1973, then-Superintendent June Baylor asked Meeks to consider stepping into the shoes of an administrator.
"I used to think I couldn’t ever leave the classroom," Meeks said. "But when I became an administrator, I found I could still tell the world all the wonderful things the children were doing. I could help them in new ways. I’ve enjoyed every aspect of my time here."
From 1973 to 1995, Meeks served as the district’s food service director, assistant principal and principal. As principal, she opened the Richmond Hill Primary School.
In 2000, she joined the Board of Education and has served two terms.
"The board was very rewarding in all the things we could get done," she said. "We are always trying to keep up and improve. It’s been interesting to learn more about this aspect of the school system – the budget process, knowing the needs and wants of the teachers; I’ve enjoyed learning all of it."
Superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer met Meeks when she joined the school system in 1975.
"Mrs. Meeks is about doing what is right for people – little people first! That was her philosophy then and it is her philosophy now," she said. "She will be missed every day, but it is especially true for school people that the good they do outlives their service; it lives in the opportunities provided for our children. Mrs. Meeks’ footprints will be visible for generations to come."
Brewer said she and Meeks have worked on projects such as the origination of the band program, the provision of local funding for two of every three art, music and phys ed teachers, adding JROTC and Drivers Ed at both high schools, additional sports programs and upgrading of athletic facilities and "ensuring that our teachers have the supplies and equipment they need to provide an exemplary educational program for students."
BoE Chairman Eddie Warren said Meeks was one of the deciding factors when he ran for the board in 2000.
"I started working with her in the mid-80s with the PTSO and my wife started working for her as a teacher, so we’ve known each other for a long time," Warren said. "There is nobody that has done more for education in Bryan County than Frances Meeks. When she wanted something for the school system, she always went after it and made it happen."
Today, Meeks pointed out the school district is the county’s largest "industry" – encompassing 900 employees and more than 6,700 students.
"That’s a pretty big operation. It has to be a team effort, people need to cooperate. It takes every one of us to take care of these children," Meeks said.
Meeks said she hopes the board will continue to keep up with the shifting school guidelines and the future needs of the students, teachers and community.
"We have to keep up with changes. The board needs to continue working to build more schools, watch the budget and be very careful with the taxpayers’ dollars," she said. "They must support the schools and keep honoring and recognizing the successes and achievements."
Meeks said no matter what happens she will never lose her passion for education.
"My son said, ‘You’ll never let it go,’ and he’s right – I’ll always be interested. I still have teachers and students that come to me for advice and I will always keep in touch."
And what does Meeks have planned for the future?
"I’m working on family history and writing my memoirs, especially an oral history of relatives I have known, which I’m putting on tape with help from my husband," she said. "I’m also adding interesting stories – keepsake stories – to tape as well."
Meeks has two sons, Walter the III, who is the chief curator of the Ft. Stewart Military Museum and John, who is a partner at Tidal Construction in Richmond Hill. She and her husband live on Folly Farms in Richmond Hill.
A BRIEF HISTORY:
- Frances Meeks grew up on a farm in Rebecca and graduated from the University of Georgia. She later received a masters degree and became certified in school administration.
- She married Walter Meeks, Jr. in 1954 and moved to his hometown of Richmond Hill, where she immediately began teaching at the high school. "I’ve seen the district come from a very small, rural, isolated place to what it is today," she said. "It’s been a very happy transition to me, to see new things happening."
- While Meeks’ husband was in the National Guard, they traveled and she taught in Texas and Alaska. "Being raised on a Georgia farm, all of that was very exciting and new to me," she said. "Most of the things I know, I learned from my students. They never knew what I was going to do, so they didn’t like to test me."
- In 1964, Meeks returned home – and to school – this time to teach early elementary school. "I have a passion for education and I believe in public schools, if we don’t educate people we all suffer the consequences," she said. "They need to be the very best they can be."
- Meeks has taught a variety of classes from elementary through high school. "It used to be all-inclusive, so I spanned the whole gamut" she said.
- When asked what one of her biggest achievements has been, Meeks noted school desegregation, which started in 1967. "I was proud that we integrated the schools without problems," she said. "That turn of events was a step forward and a step up, and when people were having battles elsewhere, Richmond Hill was calm. And the reason was because of an educated population and the desire of both races to do the best for their children."
- Meeks said her biggest regret is that each year she got rid of everything. "I never saved anything because I wanted to do it better and start fresh from one year to the next," she said. "But I regret not saving things children gave me and keeping a running list of who my students were."
- After taking on a variety of administration roles in the county for 20 years, she retired in 1995 and joined the Board of Education in 2000 to serve two terms, which will come to an end this December. "I have appreciated the opportunity to work with students, teachers and parents in this community. The total togetherness is what is important," she said.