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Educator Rubye Wysinger insisted that her students succeed

A teacher and administrator for close to 40 years, Rubye H. Wysinger nurtured future teachers, athletes and business leaders.
A teacher and administrator for close to 40 years, Rubye H. Wysinger nurtured future teachers, athletes and business leaders.
Published Dec. 27, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — In the late 1980s, when the college scholarship offers started coming in, Derrick Golden didn't know where to turn for advice.

The Northeast High safety and National Merit scholar went to a family friend, retired educator Rubye Wysinger. Because he and his mother lived in a small apartment, Wysinger hosted visiting college football coaches, including Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wannstedt, in her living room.

Golden chose Johnson and the University of Miami. He was one of more than 200 students for whom Mrs. Wysinger, a 35-year teacher and administrator, helped secure college scholarships.

Mrs. Wysinger — whose name is mentioned in the same echelon of community leadership as the Rev. Enoch Davis, teacher Ernest Ponder and recreation supervisor Thomas "Jet" Jackson — died Dec. 11. She was 96.

For Golden, 45, now a pastor in McKinney, Texas, Wysinger's home felt like an exciting new realm.

"It was like The Blind Side, you know?" he said, referring to the popular movie depicting the true story of a woman who mentored a troubled boy into college and on to a professional football career.

Upon her retirement in 1978, Wysinger said that the students of that generation were no worse than those of earlier generations — just "more sophisticated and worldly-wise."

"I will never give up on young people," she told the Times at her retirement party. "If there is anything wrong with them, they are the victims of our mistakes."

Several years earlier, Mrs. Wysinger had taken an ongoing interest in one of her former civics students, an unsmiling boy named Benny Clyde. Unquestionably one of the best basketball players to come out of Pinellas County, Clyde was expelled from St. Petersburg High over fighting and other troubles.

He was admitted to Gibbs High his senior year but not allowed to play basketball. The summer of 1970, Mrs. Wysinger stopped by the gym where Clyde could usually be found, shooting baskets. The teen told her he had received "a few" scholarship offers but didn't know whether he wanted to go to college.

"I got him in my car and took him home," she later said, "and asked him to show me the offers he'd had. He pulled out a stack of letters so big I couldn't believe my eyes — I counted them, there were 110."

Mrs. Wysinger filled out the unfinished half of an application to a junior college in Iowa. Clyde later played for the Boston Celtics.

She met students at their level, whatever it was. After seeing that her students at Northeast High weren't responding to her social studies class, she created an entire lesson in rhyming verse and set it to music.

"If you talk to one of her students now, they will let you know that when you went to her class, you were required to learn," said Joann Andrews, 71, a retired principal of Azalea Middle. "You were going to be attentive and learn. She was renowned in our community."

That exacting spirit may well have been instilled by her father, the Rev. Julius Heath, and mother, missionary Anne Williams Heath. Rubye Heath was born in 1918 in Citra, 20 minutes north of Ocala.

She graduated from Wilberforce University in Ohio and what is now Hampton University in Virginia. Her marriage to Gibbs coach William Wysinger produced a daughter, Genorice White (a career teacher who died in 2008), and a partnership in helping young people for decades, especially in getting scholarships. Today, children at St. Petersburg's Campbell Park play on the William Wysinger Tennis Courts, a recognition bestowed on William Wysinger before his death in 1983.

Mrs. Wysinger started teaching around 1943 in Tarpon Springs. She then taught at Gibbs Junior and Senior High, at what is now John Hopkins Middle, at Northeast High and at a night school program at Gibbs.

In the early 1970s she served on an eight-member countywide board aimed at easing tensions with school integration, adopted by the Pinellas County School Board in 1971.

Mrs. Wysinger retired in 1978 as dean of girls at Seminole High. She was honored for community leadership in 1984 by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

In recent years at Allegro at College Harbor senior community, Andrews, the former Azalea Middle principal, found Mrs. Wysinger "very feisty."

Some days she talked as if she were teaching a class, Andrews said. "She would tell you to sit down and be quiet, she needed to call the roll."

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.