GARLAND — Gene M. Hart Sr., an educator, man of faith and a staple of southern Sampson County who left an indelible mark on those who knew him, passed away this week at the age of 89.
Hart was a longtime educator, serving at Plain View, Salemburg and Union Elementary schools among others. He was also a steadfast member of Garland Baptist Church, where he taught Sunday school and worked as a worship leader for more than half a century.
A white ribbon was placed on the Garland Town Hall building in honor of Hart, who served as one of the faces of the town and its resident historian.
Garland Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Smith lived next door to Gene and Dorothy Hart for many years.
“He was a very nice gentleman,” Smith said. “I loved him dearly and our kids grew up together and he was just a special person. The town is going to miss him greatly.”
Mayor Winifred Murphy also shared fond memories of Hart. During her high school years, Hart was her first employer at his department store. He also taught Murphy the rules of the road through a driver’s education program.
“He’s been a personal motivator for me,” Murphy said about his work as commissioner and town leader. “I’m very sad.”
The Harts, who served as grand marshals for Garland Community Day in 2014, were married for 65 years prior to Dorothy’s passing in February 2017. Hart had battled his own health issues and was at New Hanover Regional Medical Center when he passed Wednesday.
Those who knew him said that Hart leaves behind a legacy of service to others through the schools and the students he taught, his community and the many civic organizations he assisted and the beloved church where he worshipped.
Born in Craven County, Hart graduated at Wheat Swamp High School, better known today as North Lenoir High School. It was while he was a student at East Carolina University that he met the love of his life, Dorothy. Hart began his teaching career as a student teacher in Bethel. When his supervising teacher left at the end of the year, Hart was asked to take the position.
“I worked there two years until I got a letter from President Harry Truman requesting that I go to work with the U.S. Marines,” Hart told The Independent back in 2012. His service was during the Korean conflict. “I am one of just a few men to ever have been drafted into the Marine Corps.”
After military service, Hart became an educator in Craven County and served as a principal until 1960 when he moved to Garland and became a business owner. In 1979, he returned to education. During his tenure with the Sampson County Schools system, he served as a principal and central office administrator.
He was a member of the Sampson County Board of Education for 16 years and was active throughout his life in the teaching and mentoring of young people. As a member of Garland Baptist Church he served as a deacon, Sunday School superintendent, Sunday School teacher and choir director as well as many other positions.
After retirement, in about 2000, Hart began to experience some serious health problems, and it was discovered that he had cancer in the lymph glands in his throat, but it was able to be cured. However, doctors also discovered that Hart had cancer in his bone marrow which was deemed incurable. His throat was cut from one side to the other, and Hart underwent chemo for months in 2007.
Doctors braced Hart for the worst, but he battled, survived and excelled, dubbed a “walking miracle.” He used that death-defying experience to further minister to others, while enjoying his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up.
“The Lord has been so good to me,” Hart said back in 2012. “My advice to anyone going through such trials is to never give up, even though you might be bombarded from all sides. I know I am a miracle.”
A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. today, Saturday, May 5, at Garland Baptist Church, with the Rev. Ed Rouse and the Rev. Tim Register, Hart’s son-in-law, conducting the service.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.