BRANDON — When Brandon High students heard their beloved principal was leaving, they bought him a new car, a sporty 1974 Plymouth Duster.
Lyle Flagg, then Brandon's principal for the past eight years, became the director of secondary education for the Hillsborough County School District. There he continued to mold influential careers, hiring a current school board member and shaping high school curriculum.
Before and after that job, Mr. Flagg served as principal of the largest high schools in eastern Hillsborough, including six years at East Bay High and another six as the first principal of Armwood High.
By his retirement in 1990, Mr. Flagg had driven that Duster 16 years and run up 250,000 miles. Mr. Flagg, who spent most of a 40-year career as an educator in Hillsborough County, died late Tuesday at a rehabilitation center after a lingering bout with Parkinson's disease. He was 85.
"If I had to use one word to describe Lyle Flagg, it would be 'thorough,' " said Harold Clark, a former principal of Blake High and education consultant for the state. "He was as thorough as any person I have ever met. In addition to being a fine administrator, his work was never shoddy, never half-done."
As a leader through a teacher strike, school desegregation and sustained growth that had schools on double sessions, Mr. Flagg was both demanding and encouraging.
"For many educators, he was a mentor, willing to share his knowledge and insight and vision about what he believed was right for the district," said Hillsborough County School Board member Doretha Edgecomb, whom Mr. Flagg hired in the mid 1970s to create a drug-education program. "He made real decisions that kept the district going."
Sherrie Sikes, who directs Hillsborough's Area 5 schools, got her start as a physical education teacher hired by Mr. Flagg at Brandon High. "He had everything in place. He was really businesslike and professional," Sikes said.
Mr. Flagg valued his reputation for being first on the job, and was up by 4 a.m. on weekdays. He ran or bicycled for an hour or so, then made it to school by 5:30 or 6 a.m.
"There was a janitor at Brandon High who used to compete with him to see who could get there first," said Reggie Flagg, 61, Mr. Flagg's son. "One day one would be first, another day it would be the other."
He was there to greet every bus and to see students off at the end of each day.
Lyle R. Flagg was born in Fayette, Maine, in 1928. He served in the Navy in the Philippines in World War II, then earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Maine.
He crashed into a snowbank on the way to a blind date and nearly blew his chances. Vivian Perron had changed into her pajamas by the time he showed up. "He talked her out of going to bed," said Tom Flagg, 54, another son. They married in 1948.
He taught in Maine, then moved to Lithia in 1955 and taught at Pinecrest High (now an elementary school), according to the school district. From there Mr. Flagg rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming assistant principal and then principal at Pinecrest.
He took over as principal at Brandon High in 1968 and oversaw the school's move to a new building. Students, with the help of a car dealer, led a drive to buy Mr. Flagg's going-away present in 1974, driving the Duster between the goalposts at the last football game of the season.
Mr. Flagg drove the car to East Bay High, where he served as principal from 1978 to 1984, then to Armwood when that school was founded in 1984.
The school named Flagg Field after its first principal, and surprised him with a lavish parting gift on his retirement: a new 1990 Plymouth Sundance.
"Two different student bodies bought him automobiles," said B. Lee Elam, a well known Brandon lawyer. "That shows a huge respect."
It seemed only right that he part ways with the Duster, which was difficult. But by then Mr. Flagg had wrung every last mile out of the car, just as he had done with every job he held.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.