Tate a beloved teacher, mentor

Published 8:16pm Friday, April 12, 2013

William Woods Tate Jr., 69, who worked as a teacher and debate coach at Selma High School for 14 years died Saturday, April 6, but his influence and impact on the students and community of Selma remain.

“He was one of the last Southern gentlemen, and by Southern gentlemen I mean somebody who valued class and civility as well as fierce competitiveness,” said Jonathan W. Jordan an attorney with the Atlanta based law firm King & Spalding.

Jordan graduated from Selma High in 1985 and said he had Tate as a debate coach his 10th grade year, before Tate moved to work at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville in 1983.

“Billy Tate was my high school debate coach, but he was much more than that. He was a mentor, a dedicated educator and a man genuinely concerned about his students,” Jordan said. “He looked to better his students in the broadest respects and he taught his students to develop character as well as forensic skills. He taught interpersonal skills needed to communicate.”

Although Tate only taught Jordan for one year, he continued to mentor and maintain a relationship with Jordan and all of his students from Selma High.

“He was the kind of teacher who maintained lifelong contacts with his students,” Jordan said. “In addition he kept up with the Selma High School program after he had gone, so he maintained strong relationships with many students that he never actually taught. He was very encouraging, very helpful. He acted as a mentor to many of those people who he didn’t actually have a teacher-student relationship with.”

The circle of people who were affected by Tate will be very hard to estimate, Jordan said, adding, “The ripples of his impact on his circle of students will be felt for many, many years to come.”

Jordan’s mother Sally Jordan remembers Tate as a man who “just did things nicely.”

“Billy Tate also went out of his way to teach the kids manners and how to act in public. When they would go on these debate trips he would take them to four and even five star restaurants and teach them how to order and how to tip and just how to compose themselves in nice places,” she recalled.

Sally said the impact Tate made on Selma is one his students wanted to reciprocate.

“He liked kids. He did for them and they wanted to do back for him. He was just a special person,” she said.

Larry Tate, Tate’s brother said he and his sister Diane Tate Blank have been overwhelmed by the outpouring across the country of concern and love, but especially from the people in Selma.

“As we were going around town, people I didn’t know would come up and say what an influence Billy had in their lives,” Larry said. “Billy loved Selma. He was an outstanding educator and mentor who just positively influenced many, many lives.”

Larry said there was no accomplishment and no part of Billy’s life that he loved more than the foundation of his first real entry into debate, which was teaching and working at Selma High.

“He encouraged high goals and hard work to reach them, leading to success,” Larry said.
“And many, many people have attributed a significant role to Billy in their success, including Congresswoman Terri Sewell who was one of his students in Selma.”

U.S. Rep Terri Sewell  (D-Ala.) said she remembered Tate as a positive influence, someone who helped lead her towards reaching her goals.

“I learned so much from Coach Tate and debate was such a positive influence in my life,” she said. “I know my life journey would not have been possible if not for my high school debate experience. May he always be remembered for the excellence he inspired in all of us.”

Saying thank you to Tate, Sewell said, seemed, “woefully inadequate,” which is why she decided to pay special tribute to him in Congress, speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives to honor his life and legacy.

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