Earl Lennard, a longtime educator who served as Hillsborough County’s Superintendent of Schools and as its Supervisor of Elections, died Monday after a long illness. He was 77.
Lennard became a teacher in Hillsborough schools in 1963, working his way up to the top post in 1996. He held that position nine years, and was appointed as Elections Supervisor from 2009 to 2012 after the death of Phyllis Busansky.
The school district said in a statement that Lennard led during a time of enormous population growth and oversaw the construction of several dozen new schools. One of the schools that opened just after his tenure – Lennard High in Riverview – is named in honor of him.
“His impact on our school district and community was immeasurable. So many educators and citizens have been positively influenced by his incredible leadership and character,” current Superintendent Jeff Eakins said. “It is incumbent on all of us, who were fortunate enough to know him, to carry on his legacy of honor and respect.”
Lennard told WUSF in an 2014 interview that he never intended to spend a career in education. He took a one-year teaching job at Ruskin Elementary to help pay for law school. The classroom gig lasted 15 years.
"And [I] began teaching, I knew I was hooked on teaching. Because I really enjoyed it, I had a great time and I began teaching at the high school, I announced the football games. I became more active in the affairs of the student council," he said.
Seeing the impact he had on students solidified his decision, he told WUSF in 2014 when the University of South Florida graduate was awarded the College of Education Distinguished Alumni award.
“You see them three or five years later. They’ve got great jobs, they’re moving along at the university or college, and you think ‘Wow- this youngster,’" he said. "And then for them to say 'you’ve had a good influence on me' or 'you were the influencing factor that made me want to do this' or 'want to go to school,' or 'want to move in this career,' or what have you.”
Lennard retired from education in 2005, and from the elections office in 2012. He said his goal as a public servant was to leave things in better shape than when he arrived.
“I just hope that they remember that I worked hard to make a change and make a difference. To make things better for those that came after me," he said, "And that together, together we can do that.”