Harford County Board of Education President Leonard Wheeler, who had presided over the board's most recent meeting Monday night, died at his Bel Air home Tuesday night.
Dr. Wheeler's death was unanticipated. He was 73.
"He gave it his all. He was very sincere and very dedicated," Harford County government spokesman Robert Thomas said. Thomas, a former school board president, and Mr. Wheeler spent many hours working together on education-related issues.
Though Thomas is a Republican and Wheeler was a Democrat, Thomas said they both worked to get beyond politics to get to the heart of what was best for the school system.
"He put the school system first," Thomas said Wednesday morning.
Thomas said he last saw Mr. Wheeler after Monday's school board meeting.
"On Monday, he seemed tired, troubled and worn out," Thomas said, noting that the school board has been dealing with several highly-charged issues in recent weeks and months.
Thomas, in his official capacity with the county government, added: "The administration is deeply saddened."
Thomas went on to say he and Dr. Wheeler had a friendly and cordial relationship and Dr. Wheeler sometimes sought his advice as a former school board president.
The volunteer position, Thomas said, is very demanding, often requiring a full time commitment, week after week.
"It's like herding cats," Thomas said, explaining the board needs to be brought to consensus, but each of the other eight board members has his or her perspective on how different issues should be handled.
Thomas said Dr. Wheeler was very adept at reconciling differences among board members so consensus could be reached.
"He was the elder statesman of the board," Thomas said.
"Dr. Wheeler was an advocate for education and dedicated his life's work to community service," Superintendent of Schools Robert M. Tomback said. "All of us in the Harford County Public Schools are deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Wheeler, and, on behalf of our more than 5,000 employees, I extend my sincere condolences to Dr. Wheeler's family."
Harford County Executive David R. Craig issued the following on the death of Dr. Wheeler: "I am deeply saddened by the news of the unfortunate passing of Dr. Leonard D. Wheeler. Dr. Wheeler had a distinguished career as an educator and served with distinction and integrity as a member of the Board of Education. Dr. Wheeler worked tirelessly to help make Harford County Public Schools one of the finest school systems in our state. [My wife] Melinda and I extend our sincere condolences on behalf of the citizens of Harford County to Dr. Wheeler's family, fellow Board members and the faculty and staff of Harford County Public Schools. Dr. Wheeler's service to our school system will surely be missed."
Teri Kranefeld, Harford County Public Schools manager of communication said: "In this time of sorrow, we remember that Dr. Wheeler was a kind and caring man who dedicated his life's work to education and the betterment of his community. His passion for education and his desire to serve was evident in his leadership. In his honor, we will continue our mission of preparing our students for a bright and successful future."
Dr. Wheeler was a man of extraordinary achievement whose dedication to students was evident in every decision he made. He cared deeply about every employee and had high expectations for both students and staff. He was highly respected and admired by his peers throughout the state of Maryland, school system leaders said.
"Dr. Wheeler was a kind-hearted, intelligent man who touched the lives of many through his selfless dedication to serving others," Board of Education Vice President Rick Grambo said. "We became good friends, and I am going to miss him. He was a great mentor, and his service to our school system will be greatly missed."
Dr. Wheeler is survived by his wife, Dr. A. Barbara Wheeler, a former Harford County assistant superintendent and the current superintendent of Kent County Public Schools; and sons, Christopher D. Wheeler, of Bel Air, and Leonard B. Wheeler, of Baltimore; and daughters Evangeline Wheeler and Vell Wheeler, both of Baltimore. He also is survived by brothers John and Warren Wheeler, sisters Clarene and Debrah Wheeler and Jackie Anderson, all of Baltimore, and three grandchildren.
Visitation is planned from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17, at Ames United Methodist Church in Bel Air. Services will be at the church Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 10 a.m., with Rev. Jay Blake presiding. Interment will be in Arbutus Memorial Park.
Dr. Wheeler was an educator who had more than 40 years experience as a teacher and administrator, having retired from the Baltimore City public school system, where he was a teacher, curriculum specialist, principal and assistant superintendent, prior to being appointed to the school board. At the time of his appointment to the school board in July 2008, he had been serving on the Judicial Nominating Commission and the Harford County Board of Elections. He ran unsuccessfully for the Harford County Council in 2006.
He was also a retired associate professor in the Department of Education at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
According to the Harford County Board of Education web site, Dr. Wheeler was "a member of the Ames United Methodist Church, he is also serving on the Judicial Nominating Committee for the county and the Harford Land Trust, in addition to being an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He is a past trustee with the Woodbourne Board, the HOPE Academy, the Harford County Partnership for Families, the Harford County CORE Service Agency and the Harford County Board of Elections."