Ray Horne, longtime head of the award-winning theater program at Northside High School in Houston County, died Saturday night at age 77.
Friends and former co-workers unanimously described him as a “living legend.” Though Horne is gone, his legend will long endure, they said.
“We will never see his kind again,” said Ed Dyson, a friend for decades and former principal at Northside.
When the time came to name the school’s new theater, there was no question whose it should bear, Dyson said. It’s now the Ray Horne Theatre for Performing Arts.
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Horne began working as a speech and drama teacher at the newly opened Northside High in 1963, and spent more than 35 years in the classroom, according to the Houston County Schools Teacher Hall of Fame.
The program he founded, and Horne himself, won a long series of awards; and the Georgia High School Association’s Ray Horne Award is the only such presentation named after an individual, said Greg Peavy, current principal of Northside, who also worked with Horne as a teacher.
“He’s had an impact on anyone who’s come in contact with him,” Peavy said. “It’s very difficult to put into words what he means to that school and to those individuals.”
Horne influenced countless students, setting the highest standards for their performance, Peavy said.
“That’s one of the main reasons the program has become what it’s become,” he said.
Brian Barnett, drama director at Northside since 1999, is a former student of Horne. Much of his love of the theater was instilled by Horne, who also urged him to take over the program when he retired, Barnett said.
“If you ever met him, you’d never forget him,” Barnett said. “There’s nobody like Mr. Horne.”
Horne could be demanding, but students loved him, even giving him affectionate nicknames like “Boom-Boom” -- one from Barnett’s student days in the mid-1980s, the origin of which he couldn’t even recall.
“He simply believed in you,” Barnett said. “He had this uncanny way of knowing what you were capable of, even if you didn’t know. It was just some kind of Ray Horne magic.”
Dyson said Horne gave every student an opportunity, and drew out their best.
“I don’t know of anyone who thought more of children than Ray Horne,” he said. Dyson saw his own granddaughter, a “little shy girl,” perform on stage under Horne’s tutelage, and many others shone with Horne’s inspiration, he said.
Danny Peterman, a former student, said Horne was not only a friend for nearly 50 years, but also a mentor.
“Ray believed in his students. He believed in people; he saw talent,” Peterman said. “He cherished seeing young people be creative.”
Horne was quick to push students hard, but that was only to bring out their best, he said.
Horne also cared for and helped members of his family and neighbors, even past the point where he was really able to do so, Peterman said.
“You were very fortunate if he called you his friend,” he said.
According to the online biography from his 2011 induction into the Houston County Schools Teacher Hall of Fame, Horne was born in Eastman and graduated from Hawkinsville High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Georgia Teachers College in Statesboro in 1960, coming to Northside High as a speech and drama teacher in 1963, the web page says. After his 2000 retirement he remained active in arts and literary programs locally and nationally.
Horne’s students won more regional and state one-act and literary awards than those of any teacher in Georgia, leading to his induction the International Thespian Hall of Fame and similar halls in Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi.
Arrangements for Horne’s services were incomplete Sunday night, Peterman said; but they’ll be handled and announced by McCullough Funeral Home in Warner Robins.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.