Aaron Fussell, a former Wake County schools superintendent, state legislator and Bronze Star recipient, died Monday, two days after his 91st birthday.
Fussell was an educator for 31 years that culminated in helping oversee the Wake County district’s merger with the Raleigh City Schools in 1976. He went on to serve in the state House for 16 years, retiring in 1994.
“It’s the passing of an age,” said state Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat who served with Fussell in the House.
Fussell was superintendent of the Wake school system from 1967 to 1976 and he was lauded for integrating the school district in a way that avoided the situation of many Southern school systems that were placed under court-ordered desegregation plans.
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Dudley Flood, who worked for the state in the 1970s to help school systems integrate, said it was the quiet, behind-the-scenes work of men like Fussell who helped make the merger with the Raleigh schools possible.
After the merger, Fussell was elected to the state House in 1978 as a Democrat. He represented most of northeastern Wake County for 16 years, focusing heavily on education.
He was proudest of his support for a mandatory seat-belt law, statewide watershed protection and the state Basic Education Plan, a statewide curriculum adopted in the 1980s. He had perfect attendance for 14 of his 16 years.
“I saw him as a citizen legislator, not as a political figure,” Flood said. “He was really there for the right reasons.”
Peers describe him as conscientious and studious, but also as a happy man with a sense of humor.
“He was very interested in what the children learned. He did whatever it took,” said former Wake school board member Carolyn Morrison, who worked under Fussell for eight years as a supervisor in the Wake County central office.
Fussell received the Bronze Star in 2002 for surviving 318 days of continuous combat during World War II. He braved the D-Day invasion, landing on Omaha Beach in 1944, and later fought in the Battle of the Bulge with the 203rd Field Artillery Battalion.
“He was in the war,” said former state Rep. Peggy Stamey, a Raleigh Democrat who served with him in the legislature. “He served the country well, and he served his county well.”
Fussell returned to Fort Bragg in 1945 as a corporal and wasted no time in finishing his degree at Atlantic Christian College in Wilson, graduating cum laude and going on to earn a master’s in education at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Born in Rose Hill, Fussell was a lifelong resident of North Carolina. He began as a teacher in Elm City in 1946, but quickly moved into administration. He came to Raleigh as principal of Millbrook High School in 1953 and became an assistant Wake superintendent four years later.
Although he spent most of his later years on the golf course, Fussell coached seven county or district championship teams in basketball, baseball and football. He also was active at Millbrook United Methodist Church, where he served as chairman of the board for a time.
Fussell valued family and raised four children with his wife, Polly Batts Fussell, 85, who survives him.
He is also survived by his son Ron; daughters Polly Addison and Bonnie White; his sister, Lib Sykes; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Millbrook United Methodist Church, 1712 E. Millbrook Road in Raleigh.