Portland lost another outstanding educator on June 1 with the passing of Hilman Key. He was principal of the old Fountain Head Elementary School, which later became Clyde Riggs Elementary (CRE) for most of his adult life. Key was 89.
Those who knew him said Key loved the school, students, and teachers they loved him. He was a mentor to the many teachers who worked there.
Retired CRE fifth grade teacher Chris Clutter said, “He was probably most helpful to me during my first couple of years. He had to remind me that I can’t reach all students, and not to take it personally if a student made an F.
“He would tell me to do my best and teach what I needed to teach. Arbitrator is a great word to use for him. He did a great job with that. He would always tell me what I needed to hear.”
The children especially liked the fact that Key let them play in the back on the school playground before school.
They also respected Key’s disciplinary actions. When two students had a disagreement, they would head to the gym with Key holding boxing gloves. The boys would box it out shaking hands in the end. Often Key would take the boxing gloves outside in the mornings and let the boys box before school began just for fun.
Freedom Church Gallatin Pastor Terrell Somerville was a student at CRE when Key would bring out the boxing gloves.
Somerville said, “I never got into a fight that he would let us duke it out, but what I do remember was Mr. Key would always let us come in early and we would get to box. He would help us get the gloves on, and I just remember the grin on his face watching us as we would box each other. We really didn’t know how to box. He would just let us do it. When he disciplined us, I remember he would look for a way to be able to teach us to learn from what we had done.”
When Glen Gregory was appointed principal of Watt Hardison Elementary, he and Key would ride together to principals’ meetings twice a month.
Gregory said, “We worked well together, and I always admired Mr. Key’s relationship with students and teachers.”
The former educator was also responsible for having the two schools in Portland named after previous superintendents - Clyde Riggs Elementary and Watt Hardison Elementary.
Key and his wife Ruth loved to travel. They were outdoor people, and took motorcycle rides all over the country. They enjoyed taking their boat to the lake to water ski, often inviting friends along, and teaching others to ski.
He and Ruth have one daughter Mynon (Chris) Gregory, two grandsons Austin and Collin (Kaylyn Sherrell) Gregory, and one great grandson (Kai Douglas). The full obituary is available online at theportlandsun.com.