WITH HIS BACKGROUND AS A PUBLIC SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR, REPRESENTATIVE GARY VANDEAVER VALUES EDUCATION AND ADVOCATES FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION EVERY CHANCE HE GETS
by VICKI MELDE
Often quotes about leadership share a central theme – to be an effective leader, one must approach leadership from the perspective of service. To Representative Gary VanDeaver, this perspective is innate. What drives him to spend countless hours serving the people of Northeast Texas, and of the State of Texas as a whole, is a genuine desire to give them the opportunity to have the rich quality of life that he considers himself blessed to have ... and a “real love of Texas.” (He joked that his wife says he has a Texas star on everything.)
Representative VanDeaver reflected on his
childhood in Clarksville, Texas, as a “Mayberry
experience.” The middle child with a brother
two years older and a sister one year younger, he
was raised in a close, loving family. Clarksville
provided an idyllic setting where church, friends
and great neighbors were the essence of his
formative years. He readily admits that he was
somewhat of a “reluctant student.” Growing
up in the country where his family raised cattle,
the “rodeo scene” was much more of a draw
to Representative VanDeaver than books. “In
high school, I was convinced I was going to be
rich and famous thru the rodeo circuit,” he quipped. “My parents encouraged my extracurricular interests but kept me grounded and stressed the importance of taking my schoolwork more seriously.”
Earning a higher education degree was always an expectation in Representative VanDeaver’s family. “My Mom had to drop out of high school to help her single mother when times were tough and never was able to return to school,” he shared. “But she always valued education and instilled in me that it was a key to success.”
Dedicated teachers also had a strong influence on Representative VanDeaver’s path in life. “At times a difficult student, I must have been frustrating to my teachers,” he admitted. “They were a constant source of encouragement and never gave up on me. Their dedication to ensure we all succeeded really made a difference in my life.”
Coming from a family of educators, it was a natural career choice to become a teacher. “I believe what drew me to the profession was when I realized – because of the crucial influence that wonderful teachers had on my life – that I could make that type of difference in a child’s life.”
When Representative VanDeaver became an educator himself, he drew upon the great role models he’d had. “My own experiences gave me a great perspective on working with students who struggle,” he added. “Investing in your students – particularly the ones who aren’t yet as engaged – can change the trajectory of their lives.”
As an Agriculture teacher in Avery, Representative VanDeaver told himself he never wanted to be a principal and certainly not a superintendent. As his natural leadership and character further surfaced, his career path changed and he served as both a principal and superintendent – earning his Doctorate in Educational Administration (Ed.D.) along the way. He readily admitted that the transition wasn’t an easy one because he deeply missed the daily classroom interaction with his students.
Then came what Dr. VanDeaver considers his “Eureka Moment”... as an educator and superintendent he felt significant frustration with the process in Austin regarding public education. The deep budget cuts in 2011 caused him to question whether legislators valued education as it didn’t appear to be a priority in their decision-making. “My wife and I talked and prayed about it – and in the end, we agreed that if you believe in something, you have to go for it,” he explained. He was at a point in his education career where he could retire, so his commitment to education and love of Texas led him to seek public office as a state representative for District 1. The lessons learned as a public school administrator serve Representative VanDeaver well at the state capital. “Coming from education, which was always my passion and life’s work, to realize there are those who don’t have the same respect for education and public schools was quite eye-opening,” he admitted. “I had to realize we just come rom different backgrounds and perspectives, and we must work thru our differences so that our actions result in what is best for the people of Texas.”
Serving the citizens of Northeast Texas is a position in which Representative VanDeaver takes great pride. Thru this work, he is able to continue to be an advocate for public education. “I’ve seen what a life can be without education – and the vast difference an education can make,” he explained. “If you think education is expensive, look at what ignorance will cost you. Texans – and particularly those in East Texas – need doors opened to the opportunities that education brings.”
Another lesson that deeply resonates with Representative VanDeaver was imparted to him by a Sunday School teacher when he was a child. Her wise words were taken to heart when she told her class that they will find themselves in groups where they may not be the most intelligent or the most athletic, but there should never be a time when they are not the kindest. She noted that being kind makes up for a lot of shortcomings. This advice was certainly not lost on Representative VanDeaver as he is truly one of the kindest gentlemen one could ever meet.
It seems that Representative VanDeaver’s quest to show kindness to others has led to his being surrounded by wonderful people. “Any
success I have enjoyed is because of the efforts of the good people I’m blessed to have in my life,” he shared. Among those most precious
to him are his wife, Pam, daughters Kacey (and husband Ryan) and Katelyn, and granddaughters Susanna and Clara. He and Pam met when he was just out of college and teaching Agriculture, and she was a student at Texarkana College. According to Representative VanDeaver, he never believed in love at first sight – that is, until he laid eyes on Pam. “I was smitten!” he said with a wide smile. They were married in 1983 within a year of meeting.
Representative VanDeaver’s philosophy of life is best reflected by his favorite scripture, Matthew 20:25-28. “Jesus called his disciples together and talked with them about the rulers in society – about how they lorded over the people. He taught them that if they wanted to be a leader, they must first be a servant,” he said. “This speaks volumes to me and I’ve tried to follow this teaching in my time as an educator and in the legislature. Life is really about serving others.”
The Honorable Gary VanDeaver certainly lives his faith.