Gentle giant slips quietly into the night

Published 6:33 pm Tuesday, February 11, 2020

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J. Eley Newsome Sr. was never my principal back during my school days.

However, he taught me many of the life’s lessons I adhere to today…to include how to lead by example and, thusly, earn the trust and respect of those who you interact with on a daily basis.

The Hertford County native was a career educator and administrator. He was the first principal at what is now Hertford County High School in 1972 (previously Ahoskie High School until it merged with Murfreesboro High in 1988). He remained there until 1990 and then served as an Assistant Superintendent for Hertford County Public Schools just prior to his retirement.

Standing at 6’-5” and nearly 300 pounds, one would think that Eley Newsome could easily break someone in-half. I bet’cha he could, but that wasn’t his style. Rather, he was more along the lines of a kind-hearted teddy bear.

Along with the now late Daryl Allen (a mega-successful football coach at Ahoskie High and then at HCHS) and Richard Murray (Athletic Director at both schools), Eley was part of a terrific trio. Their success stories are numerous, individually and as a team, but most all they instilled high morals and values into the students under their watch.

Back in June of last year, Eley – who had retired to Jamesville, the Martin County home of his late wife, Helen – returned to HCHS as the special guest of the Ahoskie High School graduating class of 1986.

“We just wanted to see him again; he made such an impact on our lives, not only while we were students here at Ahoskie High School, but in our adult lives as well,” said Veronica Patterson, a 1986 AHS grad who helped organize the reunion, in an interview with yours truly.

“All the bad things we see today, the school shootings, violence and drugs on campus, that didn’t happen with Eley Newsome as our principal,” Patterson continued. “We felt safe with him here. He was our daddy and you didn’t mess with us with that giant of a man sitting in our principal’s office. He was a big man with a big heart.”

The occasion featured a memory book prepared by the AHS classmates of 1986, which included “then and now” photos of several graduates that year along with their individual sentiments for a man they called a “gentle giant.”

One by one they came forward and stood beside their former principal and read aloud the words they shared about Newsome.

For Newsome, the event served as a rare opportunity to smell the roses before they are on top of your grave.

“This is a special occasion, something that old folks like me don’t often get the opportunity to enjoy. It makes me so happy to be here and hear the kind words they shared about me,” Eley told me at the reunion.

“No amount of money I earned during my long career in education can replace the kind and thoughtful words shared here today,” Newsome added. “What’s so important is their words came straight from the heart. It makes me feel so good to know that I made such an impact on their lives.”

That gentle giant drifted off to peaceful sleep on Jan. 31 at his home in Jamesville. He was 82 years old.

My condolences go out to his two sons – Odis, who works in Computer Technology at NC State University, and James, employed by the United States Government as a Secret Service Agent and lives in Greensboro. Eley was also the grandfather – or as he liked to say, “Pop Pop” – to eight grandchildren.

Oh what a reunion there was up in Heaven just moments after Eley’s passing. I’m sure God’s ears were buzzing with football talk between Eley, Daryl and Richard….with the late, great Jack Young – the coach of four state football titles and seven conference basketball championships at the old Ahoskie High School – joining the conversation.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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