James D. Randall Jr. spent his life elbow-deep in the business of Hillsborough County education. He taught at elementary and middle schools, served as a dean and principal at a high school, and went on to be a deputy schools superintendent.
Randall Middle School in Lithia is named after him.
The longtime educator died Friday after a long illness. He was diagnosed with congenital heart disease, said his wife of 57 years, Mary. Randall was 82.
"He had beaten cancer twice over the past 20 years," she said.
The couple married in 1955 and moved to the Tampa area because she had a job teaching in Pinellas County.
"The pay down here was better than in Alabama," she said.
Randall began his educational career as a teacher at Pinecrest Elementary School in Lithia, teaching fourth grade.
He came from a family of educators, according to his wife. His mother was a teacher in Alabama, and his sister was a missionary that taught English in Japan.
Randall moved up the ladder here. After teaching in middle and high schools for several years, he became a dean of students at Plant City High School before becoming an assistant principal at Brandon High.
In 1964, Randall became Brandon High School's principal and served in that capacity for four years. Then he moved into the school district administration and ended up as a deputy superintendent. He retired in 1991.
His success in administration was due to his organizational skills, his wife said.
"He just had a talent," she said. "Like somebody that sings, he had a talent for being an administrator; he knew how to get everything going, and he knew how to handle people and he could deal with the public."
The same drive that propelled him through the ranks at the school district also played a part in Randall's military career. He graduated from Auburn University and accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army, serving four years in Germany in the 1950s.
He remained in the reserves for 38 years and retired as a brigadier general.
In 1999, the school district named Randall Middle School for him.
"Oh, he had the big head over that," recalled Mary Randall. "He was very pleased with that."
On any given day after the school was built, he would go there to help out, she said. "But it got to be that he wasn't able to do it."
Randall knew how to solve problems, said former colleague Walter Sickles, who was Randall's boss in the late-1980s and early-1990s, when Sickles was the school district superintendent.
"I knew him for 40 years," Sickles said. "Jim and I were first deputies in the school system together. He was over administration and plant management, and I was deputy for instruction.
"Then, I became superintendent in 1989 and I moved him to my deputy; I only had one."
Sickles said Randall was a valuable asset to have on his staff.
"He was just a problem-solver, an excellent administrator, always prepared in meetings, better than anybody else," Sickles said. "He was so knowledgeable about the system.
"I remember many evenings after everyone else had left, we would sit and discuss problems. I can just say when I mentioned a problem to him, I could forget about it. The next day, or two days later, the problem was gone.
"He was intelligent, honest and sincere in dealing with people."
The two men kept in touch over the years, having lunch regularly until two years ago, when Randall's health took a turn for the worse.
"He was one of the best administrators I have ever worked with in my education career," Sickles said.
Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Southside Baptist Church, 415 W. Lumsden Road in Brandon with family receiving friends an hour prior to services. Burial, with military honors, will follow at Hillsboro Memorial Gardens.