They'll come Wednesday, kids now grown who once called Broadell and Evans Hill and Eccles Park and the old Seabrook neighborhood home, and where they'll remember their days at E.E. Smith High School under John Griffin's watch.

Where the old principal reminded them not to walk on the grass, and where Griffin loved them like kids of his own and wanted the most for their tomorrows to come.

“He led by example and encouraged each student to excel and reach their full potential,” says Glenn Adams, student body president of the class of 1977 and a county commissioner who will be among hundreds of E.E. Smith alumni bidding farewell to their old principal and the retired Cumberland County Schools superintendent in a noon service at J.W. Seabrook Auditorium on the Fayetteville State University campus. "He was a pillar of this community."

John R. Griffin died Thursday. He was 82.

Griffin served 39 years in the school system, first as a teacher and later as principal at Washington Drive Junior High, Edward Evans Elementary School and E.E Smith High School from 1973 to 1993 before becoming superintendent until his retirement in 1997. Griffin would succeed W.T. Brown at E.E. Smith, and follow in the footsteps of revered principals such as E.E. Miller (1940-1971) and Armour J. Blackburn (1929-1940).

“He was principal in 1977, when the school was about to celebrate 50 years," says Sharon McNair, class of 1969, who was hired as a music teacher by Griffin and now is executive director of the E.E. Smith High School Alumni Association. "He was always an integral part of keeping the association moving forward and focused on the continued excellence of the students through mentoring and scholarships."

As a superintendent, Griffin continued to believe in every student's tomorrow, and every educator's tomorrow, too.

“As a young high school principal, he served as a mentor to me," says Bill Harrison, now superintendent of Burlington-Alamance County Schools. "He left a solid foundation in the Cumberland County Schools when I followed him as superintendent in 1997 and always took my calls when I asked for advice. He is one of the finest individuals with whom I've had the opportunity to work."

Griffin was one of seven alumni honored with the inaugural Golden Vanguard award at the 40th annual National Association of E.E. Smith Alumni Weekend All-School Reunion in May.

“I was blessed as principal at E.E. Smith to have a group of caring and sincere staff members who were always willing to assist in getting the job done,” he humbly wrote to me in an email on June 2. “Any success we earned has to be shared with them. Thanks and God bless.”

On Wednesday,   flags in the Cumberland County Schools system will fly at half-staff in honor of Griffin, as well as Jack Britt, who died Dec. 22 at age 86 and was county schools superintendent from 1986 to 1990.

"John Griffin was a pioneer for education in Cumberland County Schools, serving as the system's first African American superintendent," says Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin, class of 1991. "The Fayetteville community is grateful for his contributions to the school system and the betterment in the lives of children in Fayetteville and Cumberland County.”

Kids now grown, who once called Broadell and Evans Hill and Eccles Park and the old Seabrook neighborhood home, on Wednesday will bid their revered principal a somber farewell.

No walking on the grass, and sing the school song with all your heart.

John R. Griffin would expect nothing less.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at or 486-3571.