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Farragut’s Bellamy recalls Reagan visit


Five memorable “Ms” at Farragut High School on June 14, 1983, were Master Teacher Plan, macaroni and cheese, machine guns, MacBeth and Mr. President. Especially Mr. President.

According to an administrative assistant with White House press relations quoted in the June 14, 1983, edition of The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Ronald Reagan made his first-ever visit to a public school as president of the United States when he visited Farragut High School. That 1983 visit lasted “for about two-and-a-half or three hours” according to then FHS principal James Bellamy.


Bellamy, who served 23 years — from the 1967-68 school year through the 1989-90 year — recently recalled in vivid detail many events leading up to and occurring on that memorable Tuesday afternoon.

“I went home about 5:30 Tuesday night (June 7) and started to mow my yard when my wife came out and said, ‘Hoff' is on the telephone,’” Bellamy said about a call from then Knox County Schools superintendent Earl Hoffmeister. “Earl said he was on a tractor in a hay field and that he and I had to get to Farragut High School in thirty minutes.

“About fifteen minutes after we got there about seven cars came up the hill,” Bellamy added about the Secret Service and so-called “advance people” from then Gov. Lamar Alexander’s office and the White House. “They stopped, and twenty-eight doors flew open. People went down the hill, across the hill and every way. And two people came in the front door. They said, ‘we’re looking for Hoffmeister and Bellamy.’ They said, ‘President Reagan wants an invitation to come to Farragut High School.’ I said, ‘if that’s what the president wants, he has it.’”

Bellamy said Reagan administration officials were looking for three things at FHS: a luncheon, a briefing site and to visit a classroom.

“I had to get people to prepare a meal for him,” Bellamy said. “I got four people. My wife (Anna), she was supervisor, Martha Bell, she was a home ec’ (economics) teacher, Mrs. Bailey was cafeteria manager and Judy Solomon was a home ec’ teacher.

“The purpose of the visit was that President Reagan was on his way to New Mexico to speak to the National Congress of PTAs, and he wanted to stop here and have a briefing with Gov. (Lamar) Alexander about his Master Teacher (Plan),” Bellamy added. The discussion centered around a new teacher pay scale that bases teachers pay more on classroom performance, or merit, rather than seniority.

SECRET SERVICE

The first two days of that week featured close encounters between Bellamy and the Secret Service.

“For two days the Secret Service followed me around, everything I did, and I didn’t realize it at the time,” Bellamy said. “They listened to every telephone call I made, every interview or conversation I had with anybody. They were there listening somewhere and I didn’t realize it, they were trying to see if they could trust me. I understood.”

Did the Secret Service bully Bellamy and other FHS and Knox County authorities? “No sir, they were real professional,” Bellamy said. “They were all real nice.”

While the president landed by helicopter on campus around noon — at a specially asphalted site “just above the softball field … there was enough firepower on that campus to fight a war that day,” Bellamy said of the various Secret Service and military personnel dispersed across the campus. “They had machine guns on the roof.

“The Kroger’s parking lot was full of people,” Bellamy added about the local gathering of on-lookers. “One of the boys told me later that he had a high-powered telescope and he picked ‘em out on the roof, and that they aimed right toward him when he did that with those machine guns. He was okay.”



















PERSONAL TOUCH

In addition to Hoffmeister and Bellamy greeting the president, “I gave the president a (Farragut High) T-shirt and the Secret Service grabbed it before he got it to make sure there wasn’t anything in it, then they handed it to him,” Bellamy said.

LUNCH

“His favorite food was macaroni and cheese, so we fixed him chicken and macaroni and cheese,” Bellamy said. “They (FHS cooks) went down to Kroger’s the night before and bought it. They (Secret Service) said not to tell anybody who they were buying it for. The next day the White House chef came and watched them prepare it.”

Bellamy remembers “about thirty people” eating with the president, including Lamar Orr, a science teacher at FHS; Becky Little, a science teacher at Farragut Middle School; Pat Smith, a fifth-grade teacher at Farragut Intermediate School and Barbara Comeaux, a biology teacher at Bearden High School.

VISIT TO MYNATT’S CLASS

Of the approximately 300 students attending what Bellamy said was a special two-week “make-up” summer session, Reagan’s last order of business at FHS was to drop by Shirley Mynatt’s English Class. The topic was Shakespeare’s “MacBeth.”

“At first they said he wanted a history class,” Bellamy said. “Then they changed their minds and said that ‘he was a communicator and that an English class would be better for communication (symbolism) than a history class.”

(Read more about Mynatt’s experiences from the President’s classroom visit in a future issue of the farragutpress)

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