Thursday was unofficially William T. Eldridge day in the city, and Inverness Middle School honored their retiring chief of 25 years in a big way.
Early in the morning Eldridge was picked up at his home by a limousine and delivered to the school. Once there, the principal stepped out onto a red carpet (actually red bulletin board paper) and was greeted by teachers and students dressed fittingly for the day. Many girls were in dresses and boys in ties.
Three special assemblies were held in the afternoon, beginning with the sixth grade. The band played and the children presented him with glass eggs (he collects them) and sang songs.
Then band director Barbara Dover remembered when she was interviewed for her position at IMS many years ago and Eldridge told her he liked Annie's Song, played on the flute. She played it for him Thursday and the audience was reduced to tears. "We all cried," said assistant principal Cindy Staten, who will be the new IMS principal.
At the seventh-grade assembly, the chorus sang and children presented a poem to Eldridge. They also gave him 25 things to use in his retirement, including beachfront property (a bag of sand), a life pass to IMS athletic activities, candles for dinner with his wife and a book of movie passes.
The eighth-grade program began with the band and a presentation of glass eggs to Eldridge. He received a $25 gift certificate to Stumpknockers Restaurant, a video of the school and class memories, and 25 painted eggs, presented to him by a giant red and yellow chicken.
Then the Sheriff's Office got into the act.
Sgt. Doug Dodd, a former IMS student, Deputy Tim Langer, the school's current school resource officer and a student of Eldridge's when he was at Citrus High School, and Deputy Doug Alexander, a former SRO at the school, all got to say their goodbyes in a special way.
Dodd started to compare Eldridge to an animal, "Bulldog? Killer whale? Bald eagle? He's like a big bear."
Then, the officers described the 25 years of William T. Eldridge, while tossing 25 stuffed bears to him and saying things like:
"The Sheriff's Office believes that Mr. E. has done a beary good job. Many times he has taken care of problems bare-handedly and on a bare bones budget. When problems occurred on campus, Mr. E always wanted to know the bare facts. He has helped us fight drugs on campus, from marijuana to Bayer aspirin. His mind has been as sharp as the teeth of a barracuda.
"All the SROs who have worked here have loved Mr. E. and we all agree that his bear hugs are almost unbearable. If he likes you he may joke about you and really embarrass you, but we would just pretend to comb our hair in the reflection of his bare head, and it would all be even."
After the assemblies, as the students were leaving school, the time for the limousine to take him home approached. Eldridge looked back over the activities and said he was impressed.
"It's been a good day," he said.