Longtime GPS leader Randy Tucker dies at 70; legacy will live on, friends say

Longtime GPS leader Randy Tucker dies at 70; legacy will live on, friends say

April 22nd, 2014 by Ellis Smith in Local Regional News

Randy Tucker

The life of Stanley R. "Randy" Tucker ended Monday when his car swerved left off Interstate 75, hit an embankment and rolled. He was pronounced dead at SkyRidge Medical Center.

But the tight-knit cadre of educators who knew the longtime head of Girls Preparatory School say Tucker's light will shine for decades to come.

Tucker, 70, wasn't only notable for heading up one of Chattanooga's most prestigious private schools for 26 years in a city known for its prestigious private schools.

He trained regional leaders who would go on to take headmaster jobs at other institutions. He embraced on-campus Wi-Fi, e-books, laptops and iPads before such innovations were ubiquitous. He spearheaded a special eight-day class rotation schedule that kept learning interesting for students.

"He's certainly changed the lives of thousands of kids, but he has also changed the lives of educators all over the Southeast in ways I'm not even sure he fully realized," said Tommy Hudgins, a former assistant headmaster at GPS who now serves as headmaster at Carlisle School in Martinsville, Va.

Tucker was hired in 1987 to lead GPS and quickly instituted a rule under which academic problems were immediately reported to parents. He bought computers for the administration and put a plan in place for faculty evaluations.

By the time he exited, the school had grown to 150 faculty, 60 acres and a 40,000-volume library.

In the hyper-competitive world of private schools, Tucker reached out to leaders at rival institutions, and he was seen as a top voice among other headmasters, with whom he was scheduled to meet today for the annual meeting of headmasters.

Perhaps in acknowledgement of Tucker's ability to connect with those he counted as competitors, officials at Chattanooga-based Baylor School and McCallie School offered on Monday to send their school counselors to help the GPS school community cope with what interim headmaster Sue Groesbeck said would be a day of grief.

"I think GPS was his life," Groesbeck said. "Everyone working here was hired by Mr. Tucker."

Tucker, who retired from GPS nearly a year ago and had taken a position as head of school at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, Tenn., found success through taking calculated risks, and being willing to retreat from an idea if it didn't work, she said.

"Nobody changes willingly, it was always the strength of his determined belief that these things were pushed through," Groesbeck said.

It wasn't just Tucker's 6-foot, 3-inch frame that lent him instant gravitas the moment he entered a room, associates said. People genuinely liked the gentle, happy man who took time to listen, but always pushed those around him to go the extra mile, said Glen Vey, history instructor at Girls Preparatory School.

"He was pragmatic, but he was also a dreamer," Vey said. "He was willing to try new things. Even if they ended up not working, he still tried and then accepted that didn't work and he moved onto something else. That's what a lot of people that aren't leaders don't do."

Tucker's legacy is about more than academic standards and gee-whiz technology, however. Circuit Court Judge Marie Williams, a 1970 graduate of GPS who serves on the school's board, said Tucker won over students, faculty and community leaders with a "contagious" enthusiasm and an ability to have fun on the job.

Even more, Tucker was a hands-on leader who invested time and money into developing the lives of both the school's faculty and student body, she said.

"He was well-loved," Williams said. "I think the tenor of the grief that is permeating the halls right now speaks to him more accurately than anything else possibly could."

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at 423-757-6315 or esmith@timesfreepress.com with tips and documents.