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”
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