On Monday night, Dawson County lost one of its most valued members of the community, Cecil Bennett, who passed away surrounded by his family.
Bennett was a longtime board of education member, serving the children of Dawson County for 25 years. He served on the board from March of 1973 until 1987 when he left to serve as a county commissioner.
He returned to the board of education in 2004 and received a retirement sendoff in December 2014 when he was recognized for his 25 years of service by the Georgia School Board Association.
“He was a hero in the fight to offer greater educational experiences to the children of Dawson County,” said Superintendent Damon Gibbs. “He was a student advocate and never wavered in his commitment to make decisions that had a positive impact on children. I am heartbroken about the loss of such a fine man.”
During Bennett’s time on the board, he worked with five superintendents: Clarence Denard, Randall Townley, Nicky Gilleland, Keith Porter and Gibbs. In 2014, Bennett said in an interview that he enjoyed serving with all of them and always shared the concern that the new superintendent wouldn’t be as good as the previous.
But they always were.
“We’ve been very blessed so far,” he said.
Bennett was tasked with making some tough decisions while on the board that continue to impact the community today. He was involved in every single structure in place and helped guide the board through the difficult decision to demolish the old middle school campus to make way for new buildings.
He served during the recession of 2008 when the board really struggled to make the changes for the betterment of the county in some of the darkest days the county had seen in years.
But even though things seemed insurmountable, Bennett was able to make the board laugh and always had a way of letting his colleagues and friends know that everything would be okay.
“One of the most defining things about Cecil is he had an infectious smile,” said board member Will Wade. “He could have said two words and have everyone smiling.”
His sunny disposition helped the board get through some tough economic times as Bennett would always keep the board in good spirits and feeling confident in their decisions.
“Humor was a big part of his life,” said Wade, who looked up to Bennett as a mentor. “He’s the only person I know who could make Roger Slaton speechless.”
Wade said Bennett truly loved the children of Dawson County, inspiring Wade throughout his childhood when he would come into Wade’s elementary school classes.
“He was one of those guys that I looked up to and I will always cherish our time together,” Wade said.
And when he wasn’t making important decisions for the betterment of the growing community, Bennett could be found with a smile on his face greeting customers at Walmart where he worked since 2008.
Bennett found himself in a position at Walmart where he could help civic organizations receive donations from the Walmart charitable funds, a position Representative Kevin Tanner said Bennett loved in his older years.
“He just always loved that position because he always loved being able to help people,” Tanner said.
Growing up in Dawson County, Tanner always looked up to Bennett as a role model with a “pure servant’s heart” that helped him ignite his passion to serve his community.
“I’ve always, all my adult life, I’ve worked in various roles to try to serve my community and one of the people that inspired me to do that was Cecil,” Tanner said. “He inspired a lot of folks with his attitude and the fact that he was always willing to and wanted to serve others.”
Ever since Tanner could remember, Bennett always served his community either through the school board, county commission or serving as deacon at Liberty Baptist Church for 51 years.
Family was the most important thing for Bennett, but his extended family was always his community, Tanner said.
“We get one opportunity to live our lives and some folks go through it and you know it’s difficult to maybe tell that they were there, but Cecil’s kind of one of those individuals that you know long after today is gone and long after he is buried what he’s done for the community will continue to live on,” Tanner said.
Funeral services were held Aug. 3 at Liberty Baptist Church.