In a previous incarnation, I was a teacher in the Hillsborough County School District — at what is now Young Magnet in East Tampa. During those tough, challenging initial years of court-ordered desegregation.
In the process, which even included a charity basketball game, I got to know James Gatlin. He was then dean of boys at Buchanan Junior High. I wish I had known him better. I envy those who did.
Gatlin, whose legacy is 45 kid-caring years in teaching and administration in Hillsborough County, died last week at age 69. He was special.
As a 6-foot-5, black administrator in those early days of integration, Gatlin was necessarily high-profile. Central Casting couldn’t have sent anyone better. As intimidating as he appeared, his most notable traits were a defusing sense of humor and an empathetic sense of fairness.
He was liked, loved and respected. And he will be missed.