Frances Meeks finally got to tour the school that bears her name.
A year after Frances Meeks Elementary opened its doors to students, Meeks was guest of honor during a June 17 dedication ceremony attended by family, friends, educators and school officials.
“Don’t play this story up too big,” Meeks said during a talk with a reporter, adding that she was overwhelmed by the tribute.
With her son John Meeks by her side and other family members in attendance, the woman known as “The first lady” of local education was feted in order by Bryan County School Board Chairwoman Amy Murphy, School Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher and Dr. Brittney Mobley, Frances Meeks Elementary principal, before being shown around her school.
Murphy called the ceremony and the reason for it “an honor and a privilege,” and said Meeks, “known for her passionate and relentless pursuit of the best education for Bryan County children,” is a “beacon of light in the foundation of our school system.” Murphy continued: “You only need to spend a few minutes with Mrs. Meeks to recognize her wisdom, her tenacity, her strength, and most importantly, her love and compassion for children.
Bryan County School System would not be who we are today without her … Bryan County would not be who we are today without her.”
During a career in education that spanned more than half a century, most of it in Richmond Hill, Meeks, a University of Georgia graduate, worked as a teacher, principal and school board vice chairwoman.
She worked closely with former superintendents June Baylor and Sallie Brewer and at the June 17 dedication ceremony said both were instrumental in making the school system into one widely considered among of the best on Georgia’s coast, and one reason Bryan County has experienced such population growth.
But June 17 was Meeks’ day, a year overdue because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has been,” Brooksher said, “quite the journey to get to this very special day where we can celebrate this momentous occasion …” He took a second to mention Craig Buckley, the “architect who designed the best-looking elementary school in the state of Georgia,” and Bill Vickery of Pope Construction, who “turned an amazing design on paper into reality by constructing this magnificent facility.”
Brooksher, who earlier said the naming of the $26 million school after Meeks was an exception to school board policy that prohibits doing so while a person is still alive, noted it was important to officials to recognize her for her contributions to the county and education. “Having your name etched in stone is more than a big deal, it is a permanent long-standing recognition that is only done for very special individuals,” Brooksher said.
“Just remember, the influence of a great educator and leader can never be erased, it is permanent.”
What’s more, the superintendent said, “legacy is not about what someone did for themselves, it is about what someone did for the next generation.”
Mobley, who opened Frances Meeks Elementary in the fall of 2020, said she first met Meeks in March of that year.
“In the hours we talked on that March afternoon, one thing was for sure,” Mobley said. “Mrs. Meeks has a true passion for the students, families and communities she served during her years in education.”
Afterward, Mobley said she asked John Meeks “for a handwritten note from his mom that we could use at the school.”
She got one. It read “Bloom where you are planted,” an old saying Meeks, an avid gardener who was also instrumental in founding the Richmond Hill Garden Club, has used for years. That saying, attributed to Frances Lane Meeks, now adorns the school’s atrium and is one of the first thing students, teachers and visitors see when they enter Frances Meeks Elementary. Beneath it sits an acrylic portrait of Meeks painted by the school’s art teacher, Brenna Baluh, a painting in which Meeks is surrounded by southern flowers, including wisteria and the Cherokee Rose, Georgia’s state flower.
“In all we do, now and in the years to come,” Mobley said, “we hope to continue to bloom and carry on Mrs. Meeks legacy of a true passion for serving the children and families of Bryan County.” As for the school itself, Meeks called it “beautiful.”
“I am so honored and appreciative,” she said.