City of Residence: Warner Robins
Occupation: Retired Warner Robins city clerk, educator
Editor’s note: The Q&A with Alton Mattox is continued from last Wednesday.
Q: Before you were Warner Robins city clerk, your career was in education.
A: I came here after college, Fort Valley State College, in 1964. I was a teacher at Pearl Stevens, and we still had segregation at the time. I left there and went to Warner Robins High School in 1969, the first year we fully integrated.
Q: That made you a trailblazer in the community. How was that experience?
A: I couldn’t have asked for a more graceful faculty and staff at Warner Robins. I was treated not as alien but as I belonged. I taught American government and history. I was a social studies major, so I dealt with all disciplines. Jim Elliot (Warner Robins city attorney) was one of my students. I thoroughly enjoyed it and all those I got to teach. Wonderful times.
Q: Then what?
A: I went to Tabor Middle School in 1973. I did a number of things there, career exploration coordinator, guidance counselor, supervisor. I thoroughly enjoyed it. In 1987 Ed Dyson asked me to come help him (at Northside High School) as an assistant principal. Following that, I was able to go full circle and became principal at Pearl Stevens, which had become pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. I was there until 2002.
Q: Then you retired but didn’t quit working?
A: I had a number of roles with Fort Valley State College and University, with RESA (Middle Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency) and other groups, mainly as what you’d call a teacher of teachers and consultant to school systems. In one role, I had oversight of student teachers and visited them in classrooms around Georgia. Other roles had to do with at-risk students and (teaching) others strategies to help them. That’s always been a passion. There are kids that will drop through the cracks but there are things we can do to help them turn their lives around. That’s a fact.
Q: That’s quite a career and a legacy.
A: I’ve been very fortunate and I know it’s been by God’s grace. It’s humbling. Let me tell you who Alton Mattox is. I’m the son of a sharecropper, from the Gainesville, Georgia, area. There were 11 of us children and I was the seventh. You had lots of kids then because you needed the labor force. He died at 34 and my mother was 29. Can you imagine all those children and having to leave the farm and go to city? We lived in the ghetto. We survived. My mom had no skills and did all she could do: work as a domestic. I was the first of us to graduate high school and college. Mom died in ‘73 and never saw one of us kids get as much as a traffic ticket. She gave me all of $11 when I was going to school. I didn’t miss a day and graduated with honors. I went to the University of Georgia after it integrated, I went to graduate school and I’ve gotten five degrees and was invited to join an international honors society. I’m not bragging. God gave me direction and determination and a lot of people to help and encourage me along the way. That’s why I love working with at-risk kids and am thankful there have been so many who’ve gone on to great success.
Q: Again, quite a career.
A: I’m not trying to make myself appear big, but it’s been one heck of a ride. There’ve so many beautiful peers, friends and students. I love the city of Warner Robins, it’s been good to me. I’m in no hurry to die, but if I die tonight I’ve lived a good life. The Lord’s been good to me, and I’d be happy if my tombstone just said, “Here lies a man who tried to make a difference.”
Q: What is next for you?
A: I’m 75 now and I’ll stay busy. As a past educator I’m not rich by any stretch, but I’ve got a couple of nickels to rub together, so I’m not obliged to earn more now. I think I’ll be doing something with Houston County Healthcare and volunteer elsewhere and with my church, Warner Robins AME Church.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.