A sitting member of the Henry County School Board died suddenly last week, but the dedication and commitment with which he served the community will be long-remembered.
Francis E. Zehr, 70, who represented the Ridgeway District, died July 29.
“Francis Zehr was a fierce advocate for the needs of the students, teachers and staff of Henry County Public Schools,” said Tom Auker, chairman of the school board. Zehr’s “contributions to the advancement of the area’s education system, and, more importantly, his friendship will be treasured and deeply missed.”
Working alongside Zehr was a privilege, Auker said, because Zehr “brought wisdom to the school board and worked extremely hard for the welfare of the students, teachers and administration. There were some challenging times, but we were always friendly, kind and congenial. I will miss his humor and thoughtfulness as we carry on.”
Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer said “Mr. Zehr was a devoted community servant and experienced educator with a passion for supporting the students and staff of Henry County. His advocacy will be missed.”
“There will never be another Francis. This is not just a loss for me personally as a friend and colleague but for our community,” said Teddy Martin II, vice chairman of the Henry County School Board.
“My two biggest mentors as a local board member have been Curtis Millner and Francis Zehr. I cannot say how much it means to me that each took the time over the years to impart their knowledge to try to make me a better board member,” said Martin, who also serves as president of the Virginia School Boards Association.
“Francis happily shared stories from his decades of public service as a member of the Board of Supervisors, School Board, and schoolteacher, and his beaming pride in his wife Karen, children, and grandchildren, many of whom I am proud to have met. Francis and I would talk and have dinner together before and after meetings often throughout the years. ‘The Big Z’ would speak of myself, Tom Auker and him as the ‘Three Amigos’ and ‘Lock, Stock and Barrel.’ He said he and Auker were ‘A to Z’ but when I joined it became ‘A to Z with an M in the middle,’ Martin recalled.
Zehr also “was a big supporter of my nomination for Regional School Board Chair and President of the Virginia School Boards Association,” Martin said. “I would not have become those, or be the board member I am today without him. I am glad I was able to help him achieve the distinction of being the one member to have been elected to chair both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board. As I told him, I was glad he got promoted to the School Board.
“Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers,” he added.
During his time on the two county boards, Zehr was the only member to serve as chairman of each board.
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Francis Zehr. I had the privilege of knowing Francis over the years as a colleague, a friend, and as a source of inspiration,” said Jim Adams, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors,
Zehr “was the epitome of what it meant to be a public servant and he put the best interests of Henry County at the center of every decision he made as a member of the Board of Supervisors,” Adams said. “He was a true advocate for our schools during his tenure on the school board and his steadfastness during deliberations was only matched by his compassion for our students and teachers. On behalf of the Board of Supervisors, I would like to extend my condolences to the family of Mr. Zehr.”
Adams said Zehr was well-liked by his students, noting that many approached him to chat at public events.
“Francis was a person who had devoted himself through years of service, and this was recognized by the community and respected,” Adams said.
“Service to an area is something that every individual does not readily embrace,” Adams said. “There are special people set aside like Francis that see it as a calling, and they answer that need. That is a void that can’t easily be filled.”
In a statement on the Ridgeway District Volunteer Rescue Squad’s Facebook page, Zehr was “a genuinely remarkable advocate for the Ridgeway district. Mr. Zehr has served on our Board of Directors for many years and supported the squad in many endeavors.”
Memorial contributions may be made to the Ridgeway District Volunteer Rescue Squad, at P.O. Box 611, Ridgeway, VA 24148; or the Ridgeway District Volunteer Fire Department, at P.O. Box 4, Ridgeway, VA 24148.
A memorial service for Zehr will be held at a later date.
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