Robert Lee Paschal: Started at the Top, Stayed There

He entered the Fort Worth school system at the top of the faculty food chain: as a principal. And there he stayed for forty-one years, twenty-nine of those years at the high school that would bear his name.

On July 7, 1869 on a farm in Chatham County, North Carolina identical twin sons were born unto Richard Bray and Matilda Schmidt Paschal.

Richard Bray Paschal had been sheriff of Chatham County and later served in the state House of Commons and Senate.

In 1869 Paschal, upon learning that he had become the father of two sons, proclaimed that “two great men have been born.” Thereupon Paschal challenged his two great men-to-be by naming them after two famous men in American history.

The Star-Telegram later wrote of Paschal: “Placing his hand on one [son] he said ‘this one is George Washington’; and for the other he said ‘this one is Robert Lee.’”

Richard and Matilda then tied a ribbon around Robert Lee’s neck so they could distinguish him from his brother.

But seventeen months after Robert Lee Paschal and George Washington Paschal were born, their father died. Their mother was left with nine children to raise and a farm to manage. Mrs. Paschal got up before dawn each day to feed and pack the twins off on a three-mile walk to Mount Vernon Springs Academy, where they attended school five months a year.

“In all,” Robert Paschal later recalled, “I had little more than forty months of schooling by the time I was sixteen, but I had concentrated on mathematics, history, and the sciences and had made every minute count and was ready to enter college with standing little below that of sophomore.”

Robert entered Wake Forest College at age sixteen, George at age seventeen.

“My room cost me $2 or $3 a month and table board about $10,” Robert recalled. “There were no class pennants, caps, or sweaters to buy and no fraternities, and, of course, there were no ‘stripped down’ cars to keep up.

“When we boys felt we simply must splurge, we indulged in an oyster supper, which cost us 25 cents each—a dozen or more Norfolk oysters. I have never eaten finer ones, no matter what the cost. ‘Plain living and high thinking’ was the order of the day.”

Robert graduated in 1891. Photo shows him that year. In 1892 Robert moved to Abilene, where he taught Latin, higher mathematics, French, and German at Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University).

Early in 1894 Paschal moved to Fort Worth to study law under attorney James C. Scott.

At that time the school system was seeking a new principal for the Fifth Ward School. At Scott’s suggestion, Paschal, all of twenty-five years old, applied for the job.

But when Paschal saw the subjects of the exam that he and twenty other applicants would take over a number of days, he said, “There’s no use: I don’t know anything about music and drawing.”

Paschal was assured that he could gain proficiency in those subjects later.

So, he continued with the examination.

But he soon encountered another obstacle: Being from North Carolina, Paschal was unschooled in another subject on the exam—Texas history.

So, he bought a second-hand Texas history textbook and crammed—from Alamo to De Zavala—for two days.

When the examination was over Paschal approached school board trustee William J. Bailey and asked who had been selected.

Bailey, who knew none of the applicants on sight, said, “Well, young man, I am sorry to tell you, but you know the position was to be given on competitive examination, and we had to give it to the one who made the best grade. So, a young man from Abilene gets the position.”

On January 22, 1894 school superintendent Alexander Hogg installed the “young man from Abilene” as principal of the Fifth Ward School.

Four days after Paschal became principal, he wrote a letter home, telling readers of the Raleigh, North Carolina newspaper a bit about Texas and cowboys.

The Fifth Ward School was on Missouri Avenue where Van Zandt-Guinn Elementary School is today. (Maud and Etheline Boaz were daughters of Thomas E. Boaz, a cousin of William Jesse Boaz.)

In 1927 the Fort Worth Press wrote about Paschal’s early days as principal: “Paschal says that discipline is far better now than then—and he smiled in recalling the ‘old days’ when the ‘big boys’ of the school felt it their ‘bounden’ duty to whip the teacher—the days when the teacher had to go in for some strong-arm gymnastics to keep in trim.”

In 1906 Paschal was promoted to principal of Fort Worth High School on Jennings Avenue. Among the faculty members was Lily B. Clayton, who had begun teaching in Fort Worth in 1885.

After the Jennings Avenue school building burned in 1910, Paschal became principal in the new high school building, also on Jennings Avenue.

R. L. Paschal in 1910.

In 1918 Paschal and the high school moved again—this time to Cannon Street, where Fort Worth built its third high school building, again named “Fort Worth High School,” but also known as “Central High School.” In this photo of the faculty in front of the Cannon Street building, the only person identified is Charlie Mary Noble, math teacher and astronomer, who is the woman on the middle row, fifth from the left. The Noble Planetarium at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is named for her. Principal Paschal is standing in the lower left of the photo.

The photo is undated but probably was taken before 1935 (see below). (Photo from Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.)

The Paschal twins in 1929. George Washington Paschal, like his brother, believed in putting down roots: He taught Greek at Wake Forest for forty-five years. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries Star-Telegram Collection.)

In 1935 R. L. Paschal reached the school system’s mandatory retirement age. As principal for forty-one years he had signed more than 8,100 high school diplomas. The school district held on to him by appointing him supervisor of high school libraries.

After Paschal retired, Central High School (Fort Worth High School) was renamed “R. L. Paschal High School.” (In 1955 R. L. Paschal High School moved into the W. P. McLean Junior High School building on Forest Park Boulevard, and the junior high moved to a new building on Stadium Drive. I know, I know—it’s complicated.)

The twins in 1949 at age eighty. George Washington Paschal died in 1956.

His brother died two years later. Among the pallbearers at R. L. Paschal’s funeral were Paschal High School principal (since 1941) Oscar Dean Wyatt and school superintendent Joe P. Moore.

Robert Lee Paschal is buried in Fort Worth’s Oakwood Cemetery.

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2 Responses to Robert Lee Paschal: Started at the Top, Stayed There

  1. Richard White says:

    My mother attended Central High, and both myself and my two brothers attended Paschal. I “learned” several years ago that during the ’60s Paschal had the largest student population in the country. I’m guessing that’s apocryphal, but in 1960 it had more than 3,000 students and my graduating class had more than 800.

    • hometown says:

      I have read it was the biggest in the city, and it certainly was bigger than Poly High (400 class of 1967).

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