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A modest leader has reason to be proud

Ted Williams the property appraiser could hardly be compared to Ted Williams the Splendid Splinter from Boston, at least on the diamond. But as a kid, he did play hard. He did get dirty.

"All of us boys looked like we'd rolled in the dirt," the veteran appraiser told me Friday, reflecting on his days in the early 1950s as a member of the Pasco High baseball team. "All of us 'cept one."

Tom Weightman.

"Tom always looked like his mother had just cleaned him up," Williams said, chuckling at the sport he was having in his friend's absence. "No matter what Tom did, he never got dirty. You look at Tom now, he still looks the same damn way."

Clean.

In 22 years as Pasco's superintendent of schools, Tom Weightman has earned his reputation as Mr. Clean. He has earned respect as a quiet, competent leader, as an honest, accessible man.

Last week Weightman announced that he will retire four months early, allowing John Long to settle into the office for the beginning of the new school year instead of waiting until January. Long, Weightman's chief assistant for years and a former legislator, was unopposed after announcing that he intended to assume the post.

And so it set in that Weightman really is leaving, that the man who has guided the school system through two decades of incredible growth without scandal is finally going to have time to work on his golf game (which, I understand, could use help). Much to his embarrassment, he must now endure testimonials. His discomfort with such attention has always made him an oddity among politicians and others who run big businesses _ and make no mistake, this is big business.

Pasco has been lucky to have him and a 22-year continuity of administration in the public schools. In a county pressured by rapid growth, a transient population, a weak tax base and pockets of extreme poverty, this school system has done very well.

I should say here that one caller insists that every time I write something positive about the school system, I reveal that my wife is a teacher. There you go. I also have two children in the system, and you know what? They are thriving and inspired by their teachers. They are safe.

Weightman is a Republican, though you probably wouldn't know it if the position of superintendent were appointed rather than elected. It has always been especially revealing that his chief assistant, Long, is a Democrat who rose to be majority leader in the House and might have been speaker had he not retired to be superintendent. Weightman put competence and dedication ahead of patronage. He surrounded himself with people who inspire trust, and they have served him well.

Back in 1988, former county Commissioner James Hollingsworth challenged Weightman in the primary and got hammered. The community college professor is back on the stump trying to regain a seat on the commission, and on Friday I asked him to reflect on his race against Weightman.

"It was no disgrace to lose a championship fight," Hollingsworth said. "Our contest _ if you can call it a contest _ was about philosophical differences. There was never anything personal. And you can't argue with Weightman's success and the stability that he has brought."

Weightman grew with his county, from student to teacher and principal, and finally, superintendent. He leaves knowing that his school district is respected at the state level. He did his job well, and he should be pleased.

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