An educational professional who served as teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal, after school coordinator, and mentor in both McDuffie and Columbia counties died May 30.
George Thomas Drake, 86, a pillar of the Thomson community for many years and a recent inductee as a member of the Brickyard Wall of Fame was remembered in a June 5 funeral service at Springfield Baptist Church and during interment at Westview Cemetery.
Drake, of Sycamore Street, was one of the men responsible for teaching boys about integrity and respect as he coached in several capacities in McDuffie County. He taught and coached at McDuffie Training School/R. L. Norris High School from 1959-1970. During this time, he led the school to a state track and field championship, two district basketball championships, and 10 district football championships. He became the first African-American principal of Thomas High School from 1970-1972 until he entered administration.
It was during his coaching and physical education instruction that he also drilled “respect” into his students, said Larry Adaway, a former student and football player and current investigator in the McDuffie County Sheriff’s Office. “He was absolutely a role model. He was an individual who believed in respect and in teaching and encouraging young people to have respect for others and themselves. He was very adamant about males respecting females. He was insistent that men respect women.”
Adaway credits Drake for helping him and others find a positive identity. “During my younger years, I remember him as an educator who took his role higher and influenced the lives of the young people he came into contact with,” Adaway said. “I think anyone who knew him was blessed. He will be missed in this community.”
Drake was born in Thomaston, Georgia in 1933 and began his education and coaching career at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama where he majored in health and physical education. He was a walk-on in football and baseball in 1955 and graduated from the college in 1959. He was inducted into the Tuskegee University Athletic Hall of Fame during his matriculation. He met his wife Billie Pearl Drake at Tuskegee and they were married for 58 years.
“George Drake is the reason that I understand and enjoy football,” said Rosa Hunt. “He was my P.E. teacher at R.L. Norris and we had to learn plays and we had quizzes on the plays,” she said. Hunt also credits Drake for giving her daughter a foundation. “My daughter went to Tuskegee because of him,” she said. “She is now in charge of kidney transplants at MCG,” Hunt said. She described Drake as a sincere person who loved seeing children do well. “I loved Mr. Drake.”
Following a successful career as teacher and coach, he advanced to assistant principal then to principal at Laura Jones Elementary and Mt. Pleasant, now J.A. Maxwell Elementary Schools.
Retiring after 28 years, he returned to education to direct the 21st Century program at Dearing Elementary School. He became the McDuffie County coordinator for the Job Training Partnership Act that provided youth with summer jobs. Other accolades include Boss of the Year, McDuffie County Outstanding Educational Administrator, an Appreciation Award for Cooperation and Leadership in Athletics, Thomson Progressive Civic Club’s Man of the Year.
Because of Drake’s career on and off the field, he was added to the Brickyard Wall of Fame in 2015. The Thomson Bulldog Athletic Boost Club created the wall of fame to support and encourage the athletic programs in McDuffie County and honors individuals who “have made significant contributions or have achieved extraordinary success through the involvement with athletics in the McDuffie County School System.”
When Drake came to Thomson to teach in 1959, he also became an active member of Springfield Missionary Baptist Church. He was involved in many ministries, in Christian education and served as the church treasurer for more than 40 years.
Sammie Wilson Sr. was among those Drake coached when he arrived at the McDuffie County Training Center. “He was my coach when he came in 1959. He was a coach of a lot of things and he was a main teacher at the school,” Wilson said. “Coach Drake demanded respect and he taught respect.”
Wilson recalled how Drake, along with the late Joseph D. Greene, would take the boys on fishing trips every year. “Youth looked up him.”
Also a member of Springfield Baptist Church, Wilson said Drake was a trustee, deacon and church elder. Wilson served as Drake’s assistant treasurer for a number of years and he worked under Drake’s his supervision for two years when Drake was principal. “He was my mentor and his role in this community will be missed.”