Members of the Forsyth County Retired Educators Association were visited by state leaders and a former prisoner of war during their monthly meeting.
Georgia’s first lady Sandra Deal and State School Superintendent John Barge stopped by the meeting, held Friday at the Forsyth County Board of Education Office.
Members of the group presented Deal, a long-time teacher in neighboring Hall County, with an honorary membership to the organization.
“They may have kicked me out of the Hall County Retired Educators since I haven’t been around to pay my dues,” Deal joked.
The first lady said she was inspired to become an educator by her parents, both of whom also taught in Hall. She encouraged the retired educators to stay involved in their community.
“Thank you for what you’ve done, but the job’s not finished,” she said. “There are still things to do. It’s nice to give a little bit of time from your heart to other people.”
The group also heard from retired Air Force Col. Lee Ellis.
“Unfortunately today, our children don’t have enough real heroes,” said Buddy Childs, vice president of the association. “But this is a hero, this is a true hero, and the kind of hero we need to put before our children today.”
When he was 23 in 1967, Ellis was serving his country as an Air Force fighter pilot. His plane was hit and crashed over North Vietnam, and he was taken prisoner.
Greeted by a lynch mob throwing rocks and sticks, he was taken prisoner and spent nearly six years in the compound known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
Ellis said he and other POWs were kept isolated in tiny cells for 23 and-a-half hours every day. They were exposed to constant harassment and torture and were fed just twice a day. The meals consisted of pumpkin, cabbage or turnip green soup.
Ellis told the educators that he learned many lessons of leadership during his time as a POW.
“The greatest problem today is not leading with honor,” he said. “The end justifies the means no matter what … and we have this problem in every sphere, with politicians, with business people, teachers and students.”
Ellis said modern leaders also often let their fears stand in the way of doing the right thing.
“The problems we get into are because we’re afraid, but we all have fears,” he said.
Other POWs influenced his book, “Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.”
Ellis, who now lives in Forsyth County, was eventually released from the camp and returned home to Commerce.
He later became a flight examiner and squadron commander. He and his wife, Mary, have four grown children and six grandchildren.