Dr. Ted J. Alexander
Published 4:50 pm Friday, July 4, 2014
July 2, 2014
Dr. Ted J. Alexander, one of Mississippi’s longtime, leading educators, business development leaders and philanthropists, died in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on July 2, 2014, after a brief illness. He was 78.
A service celebrating his life is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at Parkway United Methodist Church in Hattiesburg. Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday evening at Moore Funeral Home, and from 10 to 11 a.m. immediately prior to the service at the church. Moore Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. Dr. Alexander will be interred in a private family service in Franklin County, Mississippi.
At the time of his death, Dr. Alexander was serving as the first president and chief executive officer of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation, based in Picayune. He had completed a 14-year tenure as president of Pearl River Community College before assuming the foundation appointment in 2000.
Along with a coalition of progressive community college presidents, Dr. Alexander helped build Mississippi’s community college system into a politically powerful and effective force for improving education.
Under his leadership at PRCC, the college doubled its enrollment and its academic division grew 130 percent. He also led a construction and renovation program that resulted in the addition of 500,000 square feet of new or remodeled floor space for the college.
Among the major projects completed during his presidency was an Allied Health Center, on the PRCC’s Forrest County campus in Hattiesburg, which houses instructional space for 10 different allied health programs; a new student center; a cafeteria; a second, two-story addition to the Allied Health Center in Hattiesburg; and a new administration building, rechristened the Ted J. Alexander Administration Building to recognize his leadership and achievements.
A 50,000-square-foot facility that houses the college’s associate degree in nursing program and wellness center, the largest academic facility construction project in the college’s history, also was completed during Dr. Alexander’s tenure.
His record at the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation was equally impressive. While he was the foundation’s CEO, hundreds of health related grants, totaling millions of dollars, were approved and funded by the foundation to enhance the health and well-being of children, youth and adults in the foundation’s service area.
Dr. Alexander was born in abject poverty on April 25, 1936, in the small community of Clarksburg to the late James and Lessye Alexander. Forged in the crucible of the tough streets of New Orleans and in the backwoods of Mississippi, Dr. Alexander left home at 16 and moved to Jackson, where he worked nights at a steel company, to finish Central High. At Central, he was a stellar athlete and academic, noted daredevil and a regular on stage in the school’s annual musicals. He also loved boxing and was a Golden Gloves state champ in 1955.
Working often three or four jobs at a time, and dependent upon academic scholarships, he earned a bachelors’ degree in English with an emphasis on American literature in 1958 at Millsaps College, then stayed another year to earn a second certification in the biological sciences.
He received his master’s degree from Mississippi College in 1964 and his doctorate in educational administration from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1973. At Southern Miss, he was recipient of one of the institution’s first Phil Hardin Foundation Scholar Awards.
Dr. Alexander’s professional education career began in Meadville, Mississippi in 1959, where he was the biology and physical science teacher, coach, and newspaper and student council sponsor. He soon became one of the youngest principals in the nation at Franklin County Attendance Center.
He was recruited by the Gulf Coast community to serve as principal of Pascagoula High School, where he, along with a coalition of like-minded administrators, dramatically improved education on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
He became one of Mississippi’s youngest superintendents of education, of the Newton Special Municipal Separate School District, before becoming Superintendent of Schools in McComb in 1976.
Dr. Alexander’s tenure in McComb marked his ascension into the ranks of Mississippi’s pantheon of education reformers. During his 10 years in McComb, Dr. Alexander established one of the state’s first honors programs, pushing the state to allow him to recruit noted scholars in mathematics, science and languages, to teach in high schools.
He also increased the units needed for graduation from the state required 16 to 19 units, enhanced the schools’ computer centers and upgraded the schools’ math and science departments. These and other innovations led to the McComb schools in 1983 being recognized as one of the first national model school systems by President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of Education Terrell Bell.
He left McComb in 1986 to become president of Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Mississippi.
Throughout his career, he received numerous awards for his work and advocacy for public education and for his service to community.
Among them were the Edward J. Ransdale Instructional Television Award; recognition from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for his contributions to arts education; the Outstanding School Administrator Award presented by the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education; the Executive Educator and American School Board Journal’s designation as one of the country’s top 100 school executives; the 2008 William A. Forbes Public Awareness Award for advancing economic and financial literacy; the Phi Theta Kappa Hallmark Award; the Wesley Manor Volunteer Award for Outstanding Service; and the Mississippi Association of School Administrators’ Golden Lamp Award.
For his work in raising $2.3 million to serve 6,000 children in Safe Harbor summer camps after Hurricane Katrina, he was named a South Mississippi Hero by WLOX-TV and Dupont DeLisle Industries.
Understanding education’s vital role in economic development, Dr. Alexander served on the Mississippi Economic Council’s Board of Governors and chaired the MEC State Education Committee.
One his more notable achievements was serving as the founding chair and past chair of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education. There he helped inspire a generation of young entrepreneurs.
As a lifelong advocate of arts and cultural education, Dr. Alexander chaired the Mississippi Humanities Council, and served as the state’s lay delegate to the White House Conference on Library and Information Services in both 1979 and 1991.
He also served on the board of trustees of the Crosby Arboretum and of Crosby Memorial Hospital in Picayune.
He was a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International, and a past president of both the McComb and Poplarville Rotary clubs.
At the time of his death, Dr. Alexander was an active member of the Mississippi Centers for Nonprofits; Grantmakers in Education; Grantmakers in Health; Grantmakers in Aging; the Council on Foundations; and the Southeastern Council of Foundations, a 12-state organization of foundations, for which he served as a board member. He was also a founder and past chair of the Mississippi Association of Grantmakers.
An advisory council member of the Southern Growth Policies board, he served for five years as chairman of the Wesley Manor Retirement Community and was an elected member of the Mississippi Methodist Services Corporation.
Dr. Alexander’s interest in furthering educational opportunities in science for students never waned. In recent years, he had worked to help the state’s Natural Science Museum in Jackson obtain grants to expand its programs and make them available to more young Mississippians.
The Alexanders made their home in Hattiesburg, but maintained a vacation home called Bayfair near Fairhope, Ala. They spent many weekends with family there, and Dr. Alexander – forever an educator – delighted in teaching his cherished six-year-old granddaughters about jellyfish and crabs and sharks and all the wonders of nature found in coastal life. He was an avid fisherman. White Perch, especially, feared his name.
Dr. Alexander is survived by his beloved wife of 53 years, Barbara; their son Brent, his wife, Jane, and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Emily of Jackson; and their son Bryan, of Biloxi. He is preceded in death by his parents and a brother, Monte Alexander, of Meadville.
Other survivors include his niece, Melinda Alexander Bradford; her sons Josh and Jacob; and a nephew, David Alexander; cousins Robert Donnell and Joe Donnell, both of Hattiesburg, and his aunt Alice Rochester Keys, who recently celebrated her 103rd birthday.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials be made to the Dr. Ted J. Alexander Endowed Leadership Scholarship fund at the Pearl River Community College Development Foundation, 101 Hwy 11 N, Poplarville, MS 39470; or to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science Foundation, Ted J. Alexander Memorial, 2148 Riverside Dr., Jackson, MS 39203-1353.