SAN ANGELO — The list of names to replace a San Angelo ISD middle school bearing the moniker of a Confederate Army general grew larger Monday after board members heard more suggestions from the public.
On Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, district officials conducted the first of two discussions regarding a new name for Robert E. Lee Middle School. Board members of San Angelo Independent School District voted to retire the school's name in October after months of seeking input from local residents.
The list of names to replace Lee Middle School last week included 127 suggestions. On Monday, those suggestions grew to more than 135.
At the Monday, Nov. 16, meeting, the board listened to six speakers, five of which were in favor of two of the suggested names — Maj. Troy L. Gilbert and Mary Frances Butler Owens, both connected to San Angelo.
Four speakers, one of whom spoke for the San Angelo NAACP, stepped forward to suggest Mary Frances Butler Owens, a San Angelo Blackshear teacher of 65 years before retirement. Following retirement, she spent 29 years as substitute, often at Robert E. Lee Middle School.
San Angelo NAACP President Sherley Spears said Owens was a beloved teacher and community leader who was thought of in high regard by all the students she had taught.
"This jewel was kindhearted, disciplined, committed and prepared to meet the challenges of producing good citizens from her position as a teacher, mentor, and friend," Spears said. "The Girls Scouts got it right last year when they named her a 'woman of distinction' posthumously soon after her passing."
One person spoke in favor of Gilbert, a San Angelo student, ASU graduate and an Air Force pilot who died rescuing 21 soldiers in Iraq in 2006. His body did not return to the U.S. until 10 years later. Della Favor, who identified herself as Gilbert's cousin, attended the meeting in support of Maj. Troy L. Gilbert Middle School.
Favor read a letter she said was sent to Gilbert's wife by the commander of his unit following his death.
"I sensed the warrior spirit in him as he took the fight to the enemy. I sensed his strength of character as he put his life on the line in defense of others. I sensed his compassion for those who so desperately needed his help," Favor read.
In addition to the other names cited, San Angelo resident Mary Casper made three suggestions to school board members Monday, which included former U.S. national motto: E Pluribus Unum (Latin: Out of many one), Excelsior (Latin: Ever upward), and Invictus, a poem written by William Ernest Henley in 1875.
"'It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul'," Casper said, reading the last lines of the poem. "I think that's what we want every student at SAISD to understand: that no matter what they face ...it's up to them to be the masters of their fate and the captains of their souls."
School board members thanked those who attended and praised the public for its involvement with the renaming process.
"(This) is a list of amazing names and amazing people on here," said board member Gerard Gallegos, who then expressed his admiration for both Owens and Gilbert, as well as Vietnam Air Force pilot Albert Tijerina.
Board member Max Parker also voiced praise for Owens and Gilbert, but reflected that his position on not renaming the school after a person hadn't changed.
"We really couldn't go wrong with (Owens or Gilbert). Both are exceptional, extraordinary individuals ...I'm proud they're both from San Angelo and from our San Angelo system," Parker said. "I did mention, and I really haven't changed my mind, that I think it would be better not to rename the school for an individual, and I'm still leaning in that direction."
Parker said names on the list he was considering included Concho Valley, Legacy, Liberty, Lone Star, Sherwood Way, and — after Casper's suggestion — Invictus, which Parker said was his favorite poem.
"We've got a lot to think about," Parker said. "We've got another month ...it gives us more time to study."
The board will review these suggestions before making the final decision, tentatively set for Dec. 14, 2020. Carl Dethloff, superintendent, reminded attendees Mondays that a new mascot would be considered on the campus level.
What criteria does SAISD use to name a school?
In deciding what to call a school or district facility, SAISD gives consideration to names that have "significant meaning to the citizens of the District or to the students who will use the facility," according to San Angelo ISD documents.
John Tufts covers enterprise and investigative topics in West Texas. Send him a news tip at .