Chris Charles, man of faith and leadership, retires

(Editor’s note: This article, written by a Gatewood student, is a news analysis, meaning it gives not only the facts of the story, but also includes some of the writer’s opinioin.)

By Jake McMillian

Proverbs 22:6 reads, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is older, he will not depart from it.” Chris Charles held true to this Scripture throughout his tenure as the headmaster of Gatewood Schools. As he passed diplomas to the class of 2017 on May 21, Charles completed his final, official duty as the head of his beloved institution before his retirement. However, his dedication to his students and to the Eatonton community will establish a legacy for generations of Gators to come.

Charles’ connection to Gatewood began at the school’s inception in 1970. As a seventh grader, he became a charter student; his father, Melvin Charles, served as Gatewood’s first headmaster and as a legendary football coach.

When recalling the early days of the institution’s infancy, Charles noted, “We started with one classroom per grade, and we hardly ever had to switch classes until high school. I’m proud to say that Gatewood has progressed in so many ways since 1970. Students today have an abundance of opportunities, ranging from academics to athletics to spiritual development. The spiritual aspect of our school is the most important area to me. When my father served as the headmaster, he made sure to instruct kids in the truth of Scripture. Somewhere along the way, our school’s emphasis on Bible classes fell to the wayside. I’m proud that we have been able to bring them back, along with Chapel, in order to provide these kids with the opportunity to grow spiritually. Putting God first is the most important factor in our school’s success, and we are able to provide our students an education and a teaching staff that I believe is second to none.”

After graduating from Gatewood Schools, Charles served his country by joining the military and completing a brilliant career. The people of the United States are forever grateful for his service, for his patriotism, and for his commitment to the safety of Americans across this great land. Charles retired from the military in 2000 and began working as a defense contractor for the Department of Defense. He operated in this capacity for eight years; during the latter portion of this time period, his father was diagnosed with cancer. Holding his family as an utmost priority, Chris retired from the Department of Defense and moved with his father back to Putnam County so that he could support him during his illness. He was also licensed to sell real estate, a job that offered him the flexibility to serve his loved ones.

“That was a Godsend,” said Charles. “To be able to do that and help take care of him was a blessing.”

Charles initially had no interest in returning to Gatewood. Apparently, God had other plans in mind.

“ Dr. Strawbridge was serving as an interim headmaster when my dad passed away,” Charles explained. “During that time, the board [of directors] was getting a search committee together to select the next headmaster, and Bill Weeks approached me and asked me to serve on the committee. I agreed and began to pray about it. The idea was eventually brought up during our search that I could be the one to fill the position. I was offered shortly thereafter. My wife, Lisa, was a preschool teacher at the school, so I had experienced areas that needed improvement. After praying about it, I accepted the job.”

The rest, as they say, is history, and Gatewood is certainly a better place because of him.

When asked about his greatest accomplishment as headmaster, Charles immediately answered that the spiritual development of his school was his primary achievement, followed by Gatewood’s academic advancement and athletic expansion.

“I think we’ve gotten back to making God the center of things and putting Him first,” he noted. “In one of our first chapel services, the speaker spoke about ‘being everything God created us to be’. That inspired me, and I think about it everyday. We each have the opportunity to do the most with what God has given us, and taking advantage of those opportunities is the most important thing. I think that has become our brand and our goal. Hopefully we’ve done something that will have a lasting impact on these kids. They may not like all of it now, but one day they can look back at the values that they were taught and remember them.”

Mr. Charles offered the highest praise for his staff: “I believe we have an excellent group of teachers that are providing these kids with the best education possible. We’ve been able to add college professors to our faculty that can provide dual enrollment classes; being able to give college classes on the Gatewood campus is something I’ve always wanted to do, and our ability to achieve that has been huge. We’ve also been able to add new sports, such as volleyball and wrestling, that allow athletes to pursue a wider variety of interests. Our growth in athletics has progressed tremendously over the past few years.”

From the moment he stepped foot on the campus at 139 Phillips Drive, Chris Charles has been dedicated to his students, and Gatewood’s appreciation of his efforts was made evident during the Class of 2017’s graduation ceremony. Prior to the conclusion of the ceremony, Mark Dugan announced that Charles would be presented with a plaque, dedicated in his likeness, that will be placed underneath his father’s plaque on the outside entrance of the Charles Building, which serves as both the lower school and the auditorium.

“I was really caught off-guard by [the dedication of the plaque],” Charles said later. “Gatewood’s graduation ceremony hasn’t changed one iota since the school was founded. It’s always been our focus to honor the hard work and sacrifice of the children and their parents. I was humbled by Mark’s kind words. To receive the same dedication awarded to my father was touching. I always tried to model my leadership after him, and though I don’t think I could ever be the leader and the authority that he was, I was honored.”

Though Charles will no longer serve his beloved school as the Headmaster, his model character and his devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ has become his legacy. On behalf of the Eatonton community, thank you, Chris Charles, for your service.

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