Why Tom Lohr mattered | Column
by The Press and Standard | May 10, 2019 5:00 pm
Last Updated: May 8, 2019 at 1:53 pm
By BRANTLEY STRICKLAND
It’s widely reported that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of learning.
Most people go to school for a finite time. Many are fortunate enough to run across a few memorable teachers somewhere along the educational journey. Usually, it’s because that educator reached them in some profound way, forming all-important connective tissue between the mentor and the mentee.
For me, one of those teachers was Tom Lohr. Mr. Lohr spent much of his professional life as an educator in the public and private school system in Colleton County, and I was fortunate enough to run across him when I was in 12th-grade civics at Colleton Prep.
Mr. Lohr’s matter-of-fact, conversational instruction style breathed life into government and economics. He always injected humor into the day’s lesson, his weapons of choice ranging from corny jokes and clichés to self-deprecating humor.
There were situations in government where “the ox had to get out of the ditch” and “economically speaking, that dog’s not going to hunt.”
He outlined and opined based on decades of experience.
“I’ve seen it all,” Lohr was fond of saying. “I’m old school. Actually, I’m so old school I went to the school that burnt down before the old school was built.”
And sure, Mr. Lohr had a way of getting ultra-serious when the situation warranted, but he often preferred to govern with his gut, rather than sticking to the rigidity of rules that might not be applicable to the situation.
Once, a couple friends and I were selected to represent CPA at the Model United Nations Conference at Winthrop. Mr. Lohr was to be our chaperone to Rock Hill. He drove us up there, got us checked into the hotel and took us out for pizza.
As we were set to part company for the night, he offered up his keys to his trusty Tahoe.
“Anyone want to go exploring? Take the keys. I’m going to bed. I trust ya’ll.”
The above scenario would undoubtedly be unheard of today, but Tom Lohr had a way of instilling in you that he was always on your team. We took a quick tour of Rock Hill before bed. And no, no one drank and no one got home late.
Here’s an old story my dad used to tell me: Mr. Lohr was the headmaster at then John C. Calhoun where Dad got in a fist fight with another student in the hallway one morning. It was heavily implied that a female had driven a wedge between the two friends. The new rivals were promptly broken up and summoned into the Lohr’s office to be punished.
As legend has it, rather than dole out lectures and suspensions that day, Lohr proceeded to ask the two boys if he needed him to leave the room, so they could “finish up the fight.” Finding no takers, he had them shake hands and sent them back to class.
That result isn’t what’s written in any handbook for discipline. It is, however, the one Lohr thought was right.
Years after Mr. Lohr finished up his days in the classroom, he could not ignore his servant’s heart. As a septuagenarian, he became a first-time politician, winning a spot-on Walterboro City Council seat and promising to serve a couple terms but no longer.
“Politicians are like bed linens. They need to be changed regularly,” Lohr remarked in a public forum with several other candidates.
I came to know Mr. Lohr simply as Tom during this time period. I was young journalist assigned to cover the business of the city, and he became a trusted source. He treated me with respect and was always willing to offer up an honest assessment of any situation the city faced.
Walterboro navigated some rough waters during his eight years on council, and Tom was often an unbiased voice of reason. He opted to lay back and listen in most public meetings, but on the rare occasion he decided to unleash his opinion, people always took notice and change was often a by-product.
I think I echo the sentiments of countless others when I say I was fortunate Tom Lohr passed through my life.
I sure will miss him.
(Brantley Strickland was managing editor of The Press and Standard from 2011-2014. He is currently an economic development professional with SouthernCarolina Regional Development Alliance.)