Former students, teachers and administrators all seem to have a story about the kindness and quiet leadership of C. Benjamin “Ben” Dalton, who died Wednesday morning.
“This is a tremendous loss for our community,” said schools Director Rob Britt. “He not only contributed to Blount County Schools. He was a friend and a mentor.”
“He was such a great man,” Britt said, a good, kind person.
“It’s a sad day for the students of Blount County,” said Juvenile Court Judge Kenlyn Foster, who was a senior at Heritage High School when Dalton became principal. Both of her parents also were teachers at the high school.
“He genuinely cared about the students,” Foster said, “not just how they did in school, their home lives and well-being.”
Dalton began his service as a math teacher at Everett High School in 1970 and became an assistant principal there four years later. He served as assistant principal at Heritage High School from its opening in 1977 until he became principal in 1985.
He served as HHS principal until 2000, when he went to work at the Central Office. From the summer of 2001 until January 2002, he was Blount County Schools’ interim director of schools. Dalton had no interest in taking the director’s position permanently and became maintenance supervisor until retiring in 2003 at the age of 55.
When Dalton agreed to become interim superintendent, “We knew the system was in good hands,” said Bill Padgett, a member of the Blount County Board of Education, who also was on the board then.
“Mr. Dalton was a great man and role model for young administrators,” said Mike Crabtree, Blount County’s assistant director for curriculum and instruction. “He was all about relationships before it was a buzzword in education. He was a true servant leader.”
One of the best lessons for administrators was watching how Dalton would handle a crisis or other difficult situations in a calm and methodical way, Britt said. “He would do it with such tact, grace and kindness. People always felt respected.”
The principal of Everett Learning Center, Danny Galyon recalled when Dalton was his principal. The first week of his last semester at HHS, Galyon was in a car accident on Peppermint Road and was in the hospital for a week.
“Mr. Dalton came to the hospital to check on me,” Galyon said, and told him not to worry about semester exams. Dalton said he would have the teachers average Galyon’s grades to count as the exam. “I have never forgotten that act of kindness.”
Galyon shared that memory with his classmates and Dalton at a 35th-year reunion last month, and he shared it again on Facebook yesterday.
“He was everything that I would aspire to be as a principal,” Galyon said in an interview.
Galyon recalled that one of the high school employees was a quadriplegic, and “Mr. Dalton would take time out of his day to feed him.”
Dalton also would take the man to football games and sit with him, said Geneva Ledford, a health sciences teacher at Heritage and cheerleading coach.
‘He loved them all’
“He was one of my best friends for over 50 years,” said Don Story, retired Maryville high school teacher, coach and administrator. They played football together as they were growing up, attended Walland United Methodist Church together, regular went to breakfast and lunch together, and even took vacations together.
“He would help people that he would never see again,” Story said, recalling times when Dalton would do something like change a tire for someone while on a trip out West.
Story also echoed the comments of others that Dalton cared for his students. “He loved all of them,” Story said.
The teachers also knew Dalton cared. Heritage High School “was his family,” said Terri Bradshaw, who went to work as a teacher there in 1979.
“You never knew you were even being corrected when you messed up,” she said, because of Dalton’s gentle ways. “The last thing you wanted to do was disappoint him.”
Dalton led by example, Bradshaw said. “He inspired us to be our best all the time. We knew that’s what he did.”
Having grown up in the Walland community, she said, he knew all the students and their families or took the time to get to know them. When a young man didn’t have a white shirt and black tie for graduation, Bradshaw recalled, Dalton gave the student a shirt and tie.
“He had some kind of magic,” Ledford said of Dalton’s way with students. She had one student who missed two of three days of school a week, until Dalton talked with her. Then the girl never missed school again.
“He was the most positive person,” Ledford said.
Dalton’s brother Mike was director of Maryville City Schools, and his nephew, Dr. John Dalton, is principal at Foothills Elementary.
When Lenville Powell first met Dalton, Powell was playing football and Dalton was the water boy. Later Powell was an assistant football coach and basketball coach at Walland when Dalton played.
Later Powell was a golf coach and physical education teacher at Heritage when Dalton became assistant principal.
“I was his teacher, and then he became my teacher,” Powell said. “He was strict, but he was fair.”
Powell said Dalton was a super athlete. He was inducted into the Blount County Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
As a football player in the “monster man” defensive position at the University of Tennessee, Dalton was instrumental in a 45-19 victory over Auburn his senior year. He intercepted two touchdowns and recovered a fumble that set up a touchdown.
When Dalton was playing basketball at Walland, however, he missed a foul shot that would have taken the team to the regional championship. Dalton went home and wrote a three-page poem about missing that shot, which Powell kept.
“He was quite the talented writer and artist,” Bradshaw said.
When Libba Moore Gray was writing “The Little Black Truck” and an illustrator in New York didn’t capture the type of truck Gray wanted, Bradshaw said, the author asked Dalton to sketch one. Gray sent that to the illustrator to show what she wanted.
Dalton would sketch people during meetings and then give them the picture, Bradshaw said.
Dalton also recognized early on the impact computers would have on the world. While assistant principal at Everett he raised the idea of using computers to schedule classes and keep attendance records, and he said every student should have experience with computers before graduating from high school.