SEMINOLE — As a kid, Scott Rose was turned off by school. Teachers turned him on.
One fourth-grade teacher lighted his academic fires, and in the fifth or sixth grades, "We stopped doing jump-ups and started playing basketball," he once recalled.
After a visit to a Merchant Marine training center with his mother, he dreamed of a life at sea.
But a favorite teacher and a coach persuaded him, instead, to build his life around education.
Scott Neil Rose, Pinellas County's superintendent of schools from 1981 to 1990, died Friday, Feb. 11, at his Seminole home. He was 79 years old.
In January 1990, after nearly a decade on the job, he announced that he would step down as superintendent in order to spend more time with his wife and grandchildren. He retired the following October and was succeeded by Howard Hinesley.
"There are some other things I want to do before it's all over, and that time's getting closer," Mr. Rose said.
In retirement, Mr. Rose traveled China, Israel and many U.S. national parks, said his daughter, Ruth Gorlin. He was a regular saltwater fisherman, and never missed University of Florida Gators home games, Gorlin added.
Looking back over his years in the county's top school job, Mr. Rose said he was proud of improved test scores, child-care programs run by the school system, magnet schools in three high schools and a greater number of volunteers in the schools.
Twenty-three years before the School Board selected him to succeed Gus Sakkis as superintendent, Mr. Rose got his first job in Pinellas schools as a teacher of high school math and social studies.
As he rose through the ranks he made friends in high places, and they remembered him when the board was deciding on a new superintendent. He was the only applicant with recommendations from powerful Pinellas politicians. Seven legislators, including three from Pinellas, endorsed him.
And the school board, after spending six months and $12,000 in its search, picked him from a group of five finalists. He was the only local finalist.
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In Mr. Rose they found a man who threw himself totally into the job, often working 12- and 15-hour days, frequently through weekends. Members of the School Board, in their annual evaluations, urged him to take better care of his health and to take vacations.
It was their only criticism.
Mr. Rose called the job "just all-consuming."
But he was also known to spend time fishing for trout and redfish in local bays with Jade Moore, the former executive director of the Pinellas teachers union, who died in 2008, and Don Macneale, the union's president.
The men used the fishing trips to work together, Macneale said.
"We never caught so very many fish because we would get to storytelling and laughing so hard that I think we scared the fish away from the boat," said Macneale of St. Petersburg.
Of Mr. Rose, he added: "He was just a down-home kind of guy. He wasn't a slick fancy suit kind of guy, and that was kind of disarming.
"He didn't intimidate people. You really wouldn't have any idea, until you got to know him, how brilliant he was."
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Scott Rose was born during the Depression in Rochester, N.Y., where his mother, Ruth, was a registered nurse. When he was 3 years old, his father, also named Scott, a supervisor for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., died of a heart attack. His mother moved with him to an Irish neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., although they were not Irish.
"We struggled," Mr. Rose told a newspaper reporter in 1985, and he grew up street-smart in the working-class neighborhood. "My mother faced early on that she was going to have to work 10 hours a day to keep food on the table."
He never forgot the lesson she taught him. "I'm a believer in hard work," he said. "It's not how smart you are or how much you know, but what you're willing to do each day — setting goals and meeting those goals."
During his high school days, he worked part-time for a photography studio when he wasn't playing street basketball. During the two years he attended Buffalo State Teachers College, he clerked in an A&P grocery store.
Leaving college in 1951, Mr. Rose joined the Navy. Training himself from stacks of books, he became a weather forecaster aboard the USS Albany in the Atlantic. Before he left the service he was sent to a base in Dade County to study weather.
Once out of the Navy, Mr. Rose — by then certain that he wanted to teach — enrolled at the University of Florida. He received a bachelor's degree in social studies and a master's degree in school administration.
He also managed "Vet Village," sometimes called Flavets, a complex of former military barracks at the university that housed married students. He was responsible for 160 apartments.
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In 1958 he came to Pinellas County to begin his career in education.
He taught at Largo High School and in the adult division of Clearwater High. In 1961, he became principal of Safety Harbor Elementary and Junior High. He was named principal of Madeira Beach Junior High in 1962.
Two years later he was appointed assistant principal at Seminole High and promoted to principal in 1965.
While principal at Seminole High, the alma mater of his three children, he decided to take some time out to get his doctorate degree at the University of Florida.
Returning to Pinellas in 1972, he became director of budgets and staff development for the school system, a job that won him national attention. In 1973 he was one of five school finance officers honored at the National School Finance Conference in Atlanta.
That same year, in an effort to broaden his work experience, Mr. Rose moved temporarily across the state to join the school system in Brevard County.
He returned three years later as an assistant superintendent with a goal: to get Pinellas County high schools off double sessions. That goal was reached when Osceola High School opened in the fall of 1981. That was the year he became, at age 49, Pinellas County's school superintendent.
Macneale and others credit Mr. Rose with spearheading the creation of the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High School, a top program for the brightest students. It was Florida's first, and today there are IB programs statewide.
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Even after he retired in 1990, at age 59, Mr. Rose remained a much sought after figure by up-and-coming school leaders, not only for his acumen with crunching budgets but for his ability to give historical perspective of the district.
"When I first became superintendent, the first person they said I should call was Scott Rose. They said he was the best at helping cut budgets," said Julie Janssen, the Pinellas school superintendent. "He was a great guy, and will absolutely be missed."
When Kim Black became president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association in 2007, she also called Mr. Rose many times.
"He was ill, but he always had an open door," said Black. "You picked up the phone and every time he would offer you common sense advice."
Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com. Craig Basse, former obituaries editor of the Times, contributed to this report before his death in 2008.