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Photo contributed by the Franklin County School District / George P. Butler, the only principal to serve at North Lake Elementary School, was 49-year education veteran in Franklin County, Tenn., schools. Butler died Dec. 14 of complications of COVID-19.

A longtime Tennessee elementary school principal with nearly half a century on the job has lost his life to COVID-19.

Franklin County native George P. Butler, 73, was the school system's longest-serving employee with more than 49 years in the schoolhouse. He was the only principal North Lake Elementary School ever had, according to school officials, appointed principal there starting in the 1991-1992 school year. He had worked for the system as a teacher and principal since 1971.

Butler died Dec. 14 of complications of the coronavirus, school officials said.

"This is a tremendous loss for the students and staff of Franklin County Schools; he will be fondly remembered and missed as a true professional educator dedicated to meeting the needs of the students," says a statement posted on the Franklin County Board of Education website.

"Mr. Butler was a friend and mentor to many teachers and administrators," the statement said. "George also had a twin brother, John, who worked in the Franklin School System as a teacher and principal at North Middle School."

School officials noted one of Butler's daughters, Lynde Davis, is a current Franklin County teacher.

(READ MORE: Longtime Manchester, Tennessee, mayor Lonnie Norman loses battle with coronavirus)

Franklin County director of schools Stanley Bean said he'd known Butler since he began his career in the 1970s.

"I worked and coached with his twin brother, John," Bean said by email. "They were both excellent with children and helped many students during their time as teachers and administrators.

"This is very heartbreaking on the entire school system," Bean said. "He will be missed."

Franklin County school board member Chris Guess reflected on his former teacher.

"What a tremendous loss that is for our school system," he said Tuesday.

Guess was Butler's student in fifth-grade science class.

"A lot of what he taught me was about space travel and the men on the moon. He was a big Neil Armstrong fan and a fan of aerospace in general," Guess recalled.

"We're going to miss our friend and we're going to miss the quality educator that he was. It's just hard to find them like him," he said. "Everybody that I know that knew George held him in the highest regard, and we're going to miss him."

Those who knew Butler also expressed their grief in posts on social media.

"Mr. Butler was my 6th grade teacher," former student Katie Heath Benson wrote in a post on the school district's social media page. "I look back at that year and marvel at the job he did."

"Such a wonderful man! He was always ready to welcome you with a smile," Estill Springs resident Sissy Campbell wrote.

In May 2019, Butler was featured in a question-and-answer piece published by the Herald-Chronicle newspaper in Winchester, where he looked back on his long career in education that stemmed from his experience with his own teachers.

"I was greatly influenced by fantastic teachers who influenced and impacted my young life," Butler told the Herald-Chronicle. "What I remember about each [of those teachers]: All showed compassion, wisdom, discipline and guidance. That was a long time ago and today those teachers are 'Hall of Famers.' Each is a significant part of the story of my life.

"Like them — and for the record — the one thing I hope to be remembered for is that I made a difference in the profession and in the lives of students. And, to quote Winston Churchill, 'We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,'" he said.

It's what he tried to give back.

"As a result of my own school experiences and encouragements from my teachers, I learned to always be positive, encouraging and supportive in the moment of communication with my own students. It has a mystical, magical way of gaining respect and trust with an emphasis on ability and capability of each student," Butler said. "I cherish the moments with my students and making memories with them."

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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