Savannah-Chatham loses valued and respected young leader

Sad news out of Savannah:

Otis Brock III, the Savannah-Chatham school system’s chief operations officer, has died. He was found unresponsive in his office at 208 Bull St. earlier today. The 41-year-old Brock was the only African American member of Superintendent Thomas Lockamy’s cabinet and also its youngest. He worked at the school system for 14 years.

The school system has released this statement: “On Tuesday, April 24, 2012 the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and this community lost a great individual who dedicated his life to education and the betterment of Savannah-Chatham schools.  We are deeply saddened to report the loss of Mr. Otis Brock, chief operations officer, who passed away suddenly …  SCCPSS would like to express our deepest condolences to Mr. Brock’s family in this very difficult time”

And here is part of a tribute written by Tom Barton, editorial page editor of the Savannah Morning News.:

I saw Otis Brock downtown last Thursday, striding through Chippewa Square on his way back to his office at 208 Bull St.

It was right after lunch. If anything was wrong, you couldn’t tell. He looked the same as he always did.

Purposeful. Eyes front. Unflappable. A man on a mission.

And now gone.

Word that Otis Brock, age 41 and a top lieutenant of the Savannah-Chatham County public school system, died late Tuesday afternoon at his desk hit like sucker punch — suddenly, painfully and without warning. The initial reaction — Lord, this can’t be true — was followed by a sinking, sad reality that a good man and a rising star who had given so much to make Savannah a better place is no longer in our little galaxy.

That’s not just a tragedy for his wife, children and the rest of his family, including his mother, Dr. Annette Brock, a former Savannah State University president who raised her son well. Those closest to him will feel his loss more than anyone else can know.

It’s also a huge blow to the community.

Brock’s job title was chief operating officer for the 35,000-student public school system. He was responsible for everything that wasn’t academic — school buildings, transportation, food and security. Included in those day-to-day responsibilities was perhaps his biggest challenge: Watching over hundreds of millions of public dollars collected in local sales taxes and spent on building new schools and upgrading existing ones.

That’s not garden variety stress. That’s the kind of pressure that brings ordinary mortals to their knees.

Look at it this way. Brock was like a man trusted to carry two huge bankrolls: $276 million (the first E-SPLOST approved in 2006) and $330 million (the second E-SPLOST approved last year).

In a political hotbed like Savannah, where it seems everyone expects a piece of the action, it’s hard to walk around with that much dough and keep a straight line. Yet Brock did it. Honestly. Professionally. Scrupulously.

For example, when auditors found that a contractor hired for a school job had billed local taxpayers $1,444 for country club dues in 2009, Brock helped blow the whistle. He rightly told school board members it was important to maintain the public’s trust. Thanks to such due diligence, voters trusted their money with the school system the second time around, overwhelmingly approving E-SPLOST 2 in 2011.

But Brock was far more than a serious bean counter. He found the time to be a civic leader in such organizations as 100 Black Men of Savannah, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the United Way. It was as if there were two Otis Brocks: One trying to keep the school system on track and one trying to get the community on track.

In that regard, one of his biggest strengths was his ability to earn people’s trust and keep it. Again, that’s no small task in Savannah, where people have long memories, harbor deep suspicions and carry sharp knives. Brock was like a walking Fort Knox. His reputation was golden. The white business community brought him into the fold. The African-American community embraced this Savannah native like the brother he was. In a city where so much more must be accomplished, you don’t lose someone like that and not be hurt.

Actually, there seemed to be three Otis Brocks. The third one was the daddy. He doted on his kids. Another child is on the way.

If you believe in prayer, now’s the time to do it for his family. This is one of those times when words can’t convey the true loss. It’s too early. The shock is still settling in.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get School blog

7 comments Add your comment

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

April 26th, 2012
4:28 pm

RIP, Mr. Brock.


April 26th, 2012
4:42 pm

He was a good man.

Ron F.

April 26th, 2012
6:47 pm

There was a man we need more of, not less. Truly, the good die young.


April 26th, 2012
8:10 pm

Otis III was my neighbor growing up albeit several years younger than myself. He came from a family of educators (Father was AD of the school system and mother was former president of SSU) and was on the fast track in the school system he grew up in. He has left us much to soon. RIP Otis.

Dr. John Trotter

April 26th, 2012
9:48 pm

Sounds like Mr. Brock was a great man and left a great legacy. I did not know him, but I am sure that the Chatham-Savannah School System will sorely miss this gentleman. May God bless his family in this time of need and grief.


April 26th, 2012
10:09 pm

Many of us hated to hear this news.


April 27th, 2012
1:13 am

Although I did not know Mr. Brock personally, I knew many people who did. We had seen each other before and had conversations, but the depths of his conversations were not known. I can only higlight two experiences that reasonate to me even to this hour. As a sophomore at THE SAVANNAH STATE UNIVERSITY, Dr. Brock (his mother), selected me to attend a university summit in Champaign, Illinois. I had the honor of standing amongst the giants of the so called major universities. Because of his mother’s passion for our university which was obviously passed and instilled in him; the sky was the limit. But because he was in charge of the busing system for Savannah affectionately known as “1stI Transit” was how my family was most affected and touched by desire to take care of All the children in our community. My oldest son was walking almost a quarter of a mile to and from the busstop based upon where we live. Upon processing a complaint, Mr. Brock contacted my.wife personally and told us we would have a bus stop closer to our home to accommodate our son. So as a father to know that their was a bus stop closer to our home for our son was a great blessing and it happened only because of the efforts of Mr. Otis Brock III. As a father of 2 sons, I feel such heartbreak not only for his parents, but his wife daughters and his wife is also expecting. At a time such as this, I
am ha