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Commentary: Job Well Done, Ed Sanders

Ed Sanders with Mary C. Curtis at dedication of Rocky River High School's media center. align=left

The integration of our schools generated a lot of uncomfortable memories in our nation's history. The process brought out the worst in a lot of people. But it also brought out the best in some, like Ed Sanders of Charlotte. Mr. Sanders died last week at the age of 88. WFAE commentator Mary C. Curtis tells us what made him stand out. Sometimes, all it takes is doing your job. Ed Sanders knew that. In 1957, when he walked Gus Roberts into the doors of Central High, he was just doing what a principal should do. But since 16-year-old Gus was the first black student at Central, doing your job took courage. Many have seen "the picture": young Dorothy Counts surrounded by jeering crowds at Charlotte's Harding High that same day. She was forced out by some of her fellow students and adults who should have known better. The story of Gus Roberts didn't get much attention. It's the way principal Ed Sanders wanted it. He was no civil rights pioneer. Three years ago, he told me: "I'd rather not have been there; I'm not fooling." Ed grew up in segregated Simpsonville, South Carolina. He had done the late-night dirty jobs alongside mill workers to help support his widowed mom. He finished college on the G.I. Bill after serving in World War II. He was given a chance at an education, and Ed believed everyone deserved the same. He came up with a plan when it was time for Gus to enroll at Central. He met with the school's troublemakers and the football team. He let them know there would be no more second chances. Anyone who stepped out of line would be suspended. If there was too much trouble, there wouldn't be a football team. And he took Gus's hand as they walked into school together and whispered in his ear that everything was going to be all right. Gus was going to be a student. It wasn't a perfect experience for Gus. He did not get to attend his own prom. School clubs were off limits. But Ed's actions challenged others to behave professionally and with understanding. A few years later, as principal of Garinger High, he introduced the new school's first black teacher. Gus and Ed met up again years later - when Gus was his mailman. They would walk and talk about experiences only they shared. Ed Sanders would lose some of those memories in the last few years. But he was having a great day the last time I saw him. That was just this fall, when Rocky River High School dedicated its media center to the man who made a difference in his quiet, practical way. I have a picture from that glorious day: Ed Sanders, with his arm tight around me. We can't all be heroes, of course. But my valued photo is a reminder that, like principal Sanders, if we live a life with integrity and a sense of fair play, at the end we can say: job well done. Mary C. Curtis is national correspondent for AOL's PoliticsDaily.com and a contributor to the program Fox News Rising. The 2007 Charlotte Observer story on Ed Sanders. His funeral is set for 11 a.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.