A pillar of the educational community passed away last week.
Robert “Bob” Chappell passed away Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
Born in Richmond April 3, 1944, Chappell graduated from Curry High School in Greensboro, NC in 1962 before earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1966. He received his master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia in 1972 and a doctorate in education from Virginia Tech in 1993.
Chappell spent his life in education, serving in a variety of capacities in Orange, Buckingham, Albemarle, Rappahannock, Essex, Page and Madison counties. He was a teacher, a guidance counselor, a principal, an assistant superintendent and a superintendent over his 47 years in education. He retired as superintendent of Rappahannock County Public Schools in 2010, but served as the interim principal of Madison County High School in 2014. He was elected to the Madison County School Board Nov. 3, 2015 and would have wrapped up his first term this winter, but resigned his position last month due to his illness.
He was also a family man, having been married to wife, Kathy, for 52 years. The two have two sons, Chris and Andy, and four grandchildren.
Chappell was also heavily involved in his community. He served on the Madison County Education Foundation Board and with the Madison County Lions. His love of music resulted in the start of several bands, most recently Bob & Co., which performed at various events around the county. He could also often be found at Blue Ridge Virtual Governor’s School events, forensics competitions and student performances.
Chappell was also a sports fan. As a father, he was involved in numerous youth sports teams and organizations and co-founded the Madison Youth Soccer program which later led to the development of a high school aged travel team, the Madison Nomads. He inspired high school students to successfully petition for a varsity soccer team in 1990. He also participated in the annual Tour de Madison, biking through the county with dozens of others each May. School board chairman and fellow Tour de Madison participant Barry Penn Hollar said he’ll be riding in honor of Chappell next week.
“Bob was just such a gentleman,” Penn Hollar said. “But under his kind and caring exterior was a fire that burned passionately for the children and youth of our schools.”
Penn Hollar said one of his favorite stories he heard about Chappell was during his tenure as interim principal at Madison County High School.
“As soon as he came on board he asked for a yearbook,” Penn Hollar said. “He took it home to study so that he could very soon speak to every student by name. That says so much about the kind of man he was.”
Penn Hollar said he was also impressed by Chappell’s breadth of concern and his interest related to Madison students.
“He cared deeply about the Blue Ridge Virtual Governor’s School, but also about the Career and Technical Education Program and that we had sufficient reading specialists in our system so that every child had an opportunity to succeed,” Penn Hollar said. “Of course, he cared deeply about soccer as one of the founders of the soccer program in our county, but he attended every sort of athletic event and not just athletics. He supported the bands, the choruses, the forensics teams. If there was an event in which our students were involved he tried to be there.”
Board member Karen Allen and Chappell were elected in the same year. She said she enjoyed serving with him.
“Bob Chappell was the consummate educator and I thoroughly enjoyed being on the school board with him,” she said. “His life touched generations of people in the many roles he had in his career, but more than anything he was a wonderful man and a good friend.”
Allen said Chappell was one of a disappearing breed of old-fashioned gentlemen.
“A memory that illustrates this is that every time I entered the room for a meeting, Bob would always stand up, something that you just don’t see anymore,” she said. “The first time he stood, I said ‘You don’t need to do that.’ His response to me was, ‘Yes, I do.’ That ended the conversation and he never stopped.”
Allen said she also enjoyed Chappell’s humor.
“He could deliver a one-line comment about a situation that often made me laugh and always made me think,” she said. “I appreciated his wit, his candor and his perspective on issues. My life was made richer for having known Bob and I will always glance next to me and think of him. I will miss him.”
During a February board meeting, Chappell announced he would not be seeking a second term due to his illness.
“I hope when all is said and done I will have helped improve the education of children,” he said.
According to Penn Hollar, Allen and numerous other former co-workers and students, he certainly did just that.
A celebration of life is being planned to remember Chappell. More information will be released in the coming weeks.