ST. PETERSBURG — The Rev. Arthur Libby Albers did not endorse forced busing as the best way to integrate schools.
But once a court ordered Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to desegregate in 1971, the Pinellas County School Board member vowed to follow the ruling.
Rev. Albers was, as former Pinellas school superintendent Scott Rose put it, "a law and order guy" who believed that right is right.
Rev. Albers, a Lutheran minister who served 16 years on the School Board and was recognized by the city of St. Petersburg, Congress and his church for outstanding service, died Monday of congestive heart failure. He was 85 and had moved from St. Petersburg to Tallahassee two years ago.
A moderate Republican, Rev. Albers took some fire for his support of busing. Strangers slashed his tires, loosened the lug nuts on his wheels, and pelted his house with eggs.
He answered a phone call at 4 a.m. to hear a man's voice promising to shoot him in the head when he went outside to pick up the newspaper.
"I told him I'd meet him outside at 5 o'clock," Rev. Albers told the St. Petersburg Times years later. ''Fortunately, no one showed up."
Another bitter controversy, the 1967 statewide teacher strike, greeted Rev. Albers during his first term on the board. He pushed for schools to remain open in what he called "the most heartbreaking time."
"He was a minister, so he was very good with people," said Dr. Charles J. Crist, who served alongside Rev. Albers on the board. "It was a tumultuous time, and to have somebody like that on the board at that time was a distinct advantage to everyone."
Apart from his support for desegregation, he brandished no single issue and waged no particular crusade. Peers remember him as a peacemaker.
"He was like the keel of a ship, a steadying influence to people in the community at a time when it was difficult in public schools," said former eight-year School Board member Marty Wallace, who served with Rev. Albers during the 1970s.
"It was hard to find people who liked busing, so there was a lot of pressure on the board," said Rose, who served as an executive assistant superintendent for several years before being appointed superintendent of schools in 1981. "But he was steadfast, and he didn't have much patience with people who wanted to do something else."
Rev. Albers could be tough on slackers and rule breakers. He once suggested a $5 fine be imposed on the parents of children who fight on school buses. Suspended students should be sent for counseling, he argued, rather than be "rewarded" with time off from school.
But he also helped give students a voice at School Board meetings, and defended a teacher who had been reprimanded by her principal for contacting Rev. Albers directly about a complaint.
"This is a democracy. The teachers certainly have the right to freedom without fear," he said as he called for the immediate dismissal of any principal who acted similarly in the future.
Rev. Albers was usually up by 6 a.m., and off to a doughnut shop in his Tyrone neighborhood. After his newspaper and coffee and banter with the other regulars, he began the day in earnest. The minister of Garden of Peace Lutheran Church used his charm and his feet to build the congregation he started after moving to St. Petersburg from Illinois with his wife, Doris, in 1955, from about 30 to 800 members.
On the pulpit, "He was not fire and brimstone," said daughter Kris-Tena Albers. "His message was, 'God loves you, and there is forgiveness and grace throughout his love.' "
Born in Ogden, Ill., he graduated from Capital University and its divinity school. Besides his ministerial and School Board work, he served for 30 years in the Navy Reserve, retiring as a captain.
Rev. Albers stepped down from the School Board in 1982, after losing an election to a vocal opponent of busing. He retired from the ministry in 1989, and traveled with his wife.
He was proud of the fact that all eight of his children graduated from college, and six obtained postgraduate degrees.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.