DOBSON — “If there is one thing I could say to this community, and this is me — not the superintendent of schools speaking here — nothing is more important to a human being’s life than education,” retiring Surry County School Superintendent Dr. Ashley Hinson said recently. “We all think about health, but as far as what you have control over, there’s nothing that you can do that is more important than education.”
Hinson is retiring on Dec. 31, after 35 years in school administration, with nine of those hears at the helm of the county’s scho0l district.
Looking back on his career, Hinson said he’s most proud of his time spent with talented colleagues, staff and students.
“We’re very fortunate here in Surry County,” he said. “We have great students, staff members and great community support. Everyone has been a part of the success of Surry County schools. I haven’t done anything but together we’ve done a lot.”
Such a focus on education is a sharp contrast to Hinson’s early years growing up on a tobacco farm in Conway, S.C.
“It was work,” he said emphatically. “I was an only child and back then the labor required to bring in a tobacco crop was intense. I’ve done it all. I’ve planted it with a hand planter, carried water in a bucket when I was so little I had to carry it with both hands. We all did it. From the time you could grip something you were working.”
Which led to his desire to get off the farm, Hinson said.
“I worked on rows that were so long four rows made an acre,” he said. “You’d put your head down and start working and just never get up. I decided at that point it wasn’t a career for me. I just didn’t want to do it all my life.”
So he left.
Immediately upon graduation from Conway High School — a feat that at that time was rare in itself in the Hinson family — Hinson joined the U.S. Army.
He trained at Fort Jackson to be an infantry soldier, and the rigor and discipline of the military was right up his alley, Hinson said.
“I loved it. I credit the military with a lot of my good fortune, because it taught me discipline,” he said. “I wasn’t necessarily undisciplined, but they teach you organization. They teach you the value of doing the right thing and the consequences associated with not doing the right thing. It just teaches you to be a good human being.”
Hinson retired as a sergeant major from the military after “30 years, three months and 21 days,” after serving three years active duty and 27 years in the reserves.
“I was 49 years old when I got out, and I went in at 19,” he said.
During his tenure, the future educator served as an adviser to the South Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War.
While he said he doesn’t like to talk about the war, he noted he “went through the Tet offensive in the Mekong Delta.”
And then he came home, where a friend’s off-hand comment changed his future forever.
“I had the GI Bill just sitting there waiting on me and a friend stopped by my house and suggested I use it,” he said. “Without that suggestion, I’d have never considered that I was smart enough for college.”
So Hinson grabbed a book on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), read it, took the test and was accepted to college.
He received his undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina, his master’s degree and education specialist degree from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and his PhD. from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fl.
Looking back on his career, Hinson said he is often in awe of the circumstances that brought him to the Surry County Superintendent’s desk.
“What I’ve done here as the superintendent of the school system has been an absolute joy,” he said. “I almost want to apologize if my face has been put on the accomplishments of this entire school system.”
Hinson said his life has been blessed.
“It’s almost like God has been looking down on me and taking care of me,” he said. “I’ve gone through Vietnam, lived through it, had a wonderful career and a great life.
“It’s like he’s watching over me.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.