The ultimate man of style recently passed away after 88 well-lived years.
T.H. Poole, Sr., husband, father, teacher, coach, leader, watchdog and businessman, leaves a legacy of Civil Rights activism in Lake County that never will be equaled.
Thomas H. Poole is remembered as a champion of the downtrodden who headed the Tri-City Chapter of the NAACP for 26 years. He integrated the public swimming pool and theatre in Eustis, sued for better pay for African American Lake County Schools employees and forced the City of Leesburg to abandon at-large elections so African Americans would have better chances to be elected to the city council.
My memories of T.H. Poole are based on chats we had about the bad old days when Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall enthusiastically enforced segregation as the law of the land.
For those of you unfamiliar with the late sheriff’s views on race, I offer the following quote from his autobiography: “I don’t think there is any question that the white race is superior to the black race. I believe that’s a proven fact. In their country, they’re still eating each other. We don’t do that.”
I loved probing Mr. Poole’s vast memory bank when we crossed paths. Every story was a revelation, not just about times past, but about the man himself, a freedom fighter who repeatedly stood up to big boss McCall.
Mr. Poole refused to be intimidated by McCall or deputies who enjoyed tailgating him through town as Mr. Poole drove his television repair van to and from jobs.
I doubt McCall ever invited T.H. over for sweet tea and cornbread, but there are indications that Lake County’s racist sheriff came to respect Mr. Poole.
McCall and Mr. Poole even became allies when tensions ran high shortly after Lake County schools were integrated in 1968. As I recall the story, black Eustis High School students walked out of class after white students roughed up a kid. Sheriff McCall was called to the scene, but the angry students, who were discussing rioting, refused to return to class. McCall called on T.H. Poole to resolve the impasse. And that’s what Mr. Poole did. Using eloquence and calm reasoning, he doused flames of indignation by advocating peaceful discussion, not violence retribution.
Thomas H. Poole was many things. But he always was a peacemaker. He always was in style.