BELLE GLADE — Few were surprised in the 1980s when Glades Central High School teams were racking up wins in South Florida’s annual Black History Brain Bowl academic competition. The victories were a reflection not only of the students’ and their coach’s commitment, but also the dedication of the school’s longtime leader.
That only begins to explain why hundreds gathered at Glades Central on May 24 for her farewell wake, or why the high school’s football stadium, home of countless championship athletes, bears the name “Effie C. Grear.”
“Dr. Grear,” as she was known, died at age 84 on May 16 following heart-surgery complications, having served half a century as mentor if not mother to generations of Glades-area students.
From public school teacher in her native West Virginia, to band director at Belle Glade’s then-segregated Lake Shore Junior-Senior High School in 1956, she became dean of girls and later assistant principal at Lake Shore, then assistant principal at the new Glades Central High that resulted from desegregation, before becoming its principal in 1975 and retiring in 2000.
In a classic example of the respect that she and her late husband William — Glade’s first African-American elected official — commanded, it once was reported that, having learned it was he they had robbed, the culprits returned his wallet, including all its contents, to the Grears’ front porch.
In a region previously stigmatized by a mysterious new disease, AIDS, Grear served on the board of the Glades’ only hospital, the former Glades General, helped produce the Lakeside Medical Center to replace Hurricane Wilma-devastated Glades General, cut the ceremonial ribbon for Lakeside’s 2009 opening, and greeted its first patient.
Grear helped establish the nurse education program at Palm Beach State College's Glades campus. In November she was honored as a Glades hero by her fellow Palm Beach County Health Care District commissioners as she completed her final volunteer term on the board.
Grear, born Aug. 15, 1927 in Huntington, W.Va, was a member and pianist at New Bethel A.M.E Church, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and active in the local branch of the NAACP. Her innumerable awards and accolades include 1989 Citizen of the Year in Belle Glade and Ida S. Baker Distinguished Black Educator of the Year presented before the Florida Governor’s Cabinet in 1992. In 2000 she was honored by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings for her 51 years of service to public education.
“Dr. Effie Grear,” Hastings entered into the Congressional Record on May 18, “enjoyed enormous respect among everyone in the educational field and all those familiar with her devotion to children and her love for her community. She was a good friend and mentor to many and she will be dearly missed.”
Grear is survived by her son, William Grear Jr. of Belle Glade; her daughter, Rhonda Grear of Atlanta; her sister, Shirley Speakes of Royal Palm Beach; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Photo: Effie Grear