School board member James Underwood died Thursday morning after suffering a heart attack.
He was 46.
The news hit school officials hard.
“The Scotland County schools family is shocked and deeply saddened by Mr. Underwood’s sudden passing,”Superintendent Rick Stout said in a statement. “Mr. Underwood was a tireless advocate for students in Scotland County and an asset to our community. He will be greatly missed.”
Darrel Gibson, Underwood’s cousin and fellow board member, spoke of Underwood’s passion for helping struggling students. A Laurinburg native, Underwood formerly worked as a counselor in the Scotland County school system.
“Mr. Underwood was very concerned about all students in our school system, but mostly about the underprivileged and those who seemed to be potential dropouts,” Gibson said. “He was my counselor when I was in high school and we were running mates for the school board in a sense. He was one of my best friends, and I am so saddened by his passing.”
Underwood’s experience as a school counselor informed the decisions that he made as a school board member, friends said.
“It meant a lot to him to make sure that kids got what they needed to be successful and to ensure that we provided staff members with the professional development that they needed so that they could support their students,” said Gibson.
Gibson said that he and Underwood were preparing to attend the North Carolina Caucus of Black School Board Members’ retreat this weekend.
Underwood was elected to the Board of Education in 2010.
“He was a true true champion for education,” school board member Terence Williams said. “His work with youth in our district came from a love and passion and genuine desire to see all our kids be successful. His passing will leave a great void.”
Underwood has worked as assistant pastor of Galilee United Methodist Church in Laurinburg for the last two years.
“I came here in 2004 and that’s really when I met James,” said the Rev. Dr. Jesse Brunson, Galilee’s pastor. “He was very intellectual, a spiritual person with a deep love for family and community as well as the church. He was not a paid staff member, he was a volunteer, but he spent quite a bit of time here working with the young people and the Sunday school.”
Underwood also served as the coordinator of youth ministry at Galilee, and was a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.
“I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to James’ family,” said school board chairman Charles Brown. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them in this time of loss. James was dedicated to the boys and girls of Scotland County and will be missed greatly. It was a pleasure to have served with him.”
He is survived by his wife Felicia Hall Underwood and two sons.