Robert C. Rice

Age 69: Former superintendent of schools for Anne Arundel County.

Dr. Rice faced death threats as he carried out a desegregation plan in a Louisiana public school district.

June 24, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun Reporter

Robert C. Rice, the superintendent of the Anne Arundel County schools in the mid-1980s who also served in District of Columbia and state of Maryland posts, died of lung transplant complications Saturday at University of Maryland Medical Center. The Arnold resident was 69.

Dr. Rice received media attention in 1984 - including an appearance on Good Morning America - when he defended the need for a three-year-old child with herpes to attend a preschool program.

Born in Nevenville, Iowa, he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Northern Iowa and a doctorate in education at Iowa State University.

After working in teaching and school administration in Iowa, he was named superintendent of the St. Charles Parish Public Schools in Luling, La., where he oversaw a court-ordered desegregation plan in his 11 years there.

"He had death threats made against him," said his son, Dr. Robert Todd Rice of Queen Anne, a veterinarian. "The Ku Klux Klan was protesting vigorously in public places and the FBI had our house under 24-hour surveillance."

His son said his father pressed the desegregation plan forward.

"He was an extremely selfless man," his son said.

In 1984, he was tapped to head the Anne Arundel County schools after the departure of longtime Superintendent Edward J. Anderson.

"He had the ability to think thorough a difficult situation and size it up very quickly," said Larry Campbell, a retired Anne Arundel County elementary school principal. "He had a good judgment and would give the credit to others when they succeeded and took the hit himself when there was a problem."

Dr. Rice's name appeared in numerous newspaper articles in 1984 and 1985 when he defended the right of a three-year-old boy who had been infected with herpes to attend Pasadena Elementary School's Early Childhood Intervention Program. Nearly 100 parents showed up at a school board meeting to protest the child's enrollment.

"As a professional educator, he believes that knowledge would conquer ignorance," a Sun columnist wrote at the time of the incident. The columnist quoted Dr. Rice: "I believe my decision [to enroll the child] was a sound one and unless there is new evidence, I don't see anything to change it."

Dr. Rice held the Anne Arundel County post for one four-year term - the school board did not renew his contract - and in the late 1980s he became executive director of the State Board of Education and an assistant state schools superintendent. In 2001, he was named acting chief academic officer of the District of Columbia public schools and held posts in the District's public schools office until last year.

He was a past winner of the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo in Louisiana, with his catch of a 436-pound blue marlin. He was also a hunter.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, 1601 Pleasant Plains Road in Annapolis

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 18 years, the former Betsy Rose Fox; a daughter, Stephanie Rice Weaver of Greensboro, N.C.; a stepson, Mark Fleming of Arnold; a stepdaughter, Rachael Fleming, also of Arnold; two brothers, Richard Rice of Johnston, Iowa, and Ronald Rice of Des Moines, Iowa; and six grandchildren. His marriage to the former Susannah Rosenberger ended in divorce.

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