Wake County school board member Zora Felton has died unexpectedly just a week after winning re-election.
News of Felton’s death was shared by Wake County school leaders in an email sent to schools Wednesday. Felton, 65, a retired social studies teacher, had been elected to the school board in 2013 and ran unopposed for a two-year term last week.
“Every board member is in absolute shock,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said in an interview Wednesday. “We had no idea that she was facing any kind of critical or serious issues.”
Benton said that Felton had called him before Tuesday’s school board meeting to say that she had a headache and would not be attending.
As recently as Monday, Felton had quipped at the board’s student achievement committee meeting that she’d be on the board for at least another two years. Felton continued to press Monday her long-standing concern for giving more planning time to teachers during the school day.
Benton said Felton’s legacy will be one of advocating for Wake teachers and students. Both had started their teaching careers at Sanderson High School in Raleigh in the early 1970s.
“She has devoted almost two-thirds of her life to the students of Wake County, and these past few years to the Wake County system,” Benton said.
Under board policy, the school board will appoint Felton’s successor after taking applications from the community. Felton represented District 7, which includes northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and part of Cary.
Felton had not initially filed to run for re-election in July when it appeared this fall’s school board contests would use the maps adopted by the General Assembly in 2013. But when federal judges declared the legislature’s maps unconstitutional and ordered the old lines be used, Felton submitted her candidacy in the second filing period in August.
Born in North Carolina in 1951, Felton’s family moved in 1964 to Wake County, where she remained for the rest of her life. She attended Raleigh public schools and graduated from Sanderson High and N.C. State University before returning to Sanderson in 1973 to teach social studies for 10 years.
She stepped away from the classroom to raise her three children, remaining active in their schools until they graduated from Leesville Road High School. She returned to teaching in 1998 at Leesville Road and retired in 2013 in order to run for the school board.
Grief counselors will be on hand at Leesville Road High, according to Lisa Luten, a Wake schools spokeswoman.
“Zora Felton never lost her focus on what mattered most,” Superintendent Jim Merrill said in the email. “This is a difficult day for all of us. We have lost a friend and colleague who dedicated her career to our school system.”