Colleagues described James Hedrick, the principal at Athens Drive High School who died unexpectedly on Tuesday, as a talented educator.
“He was the type of professional that you could always learn something from,” said Doug Thilman, a friend of Hedrick and the assistant superintendent of human resources for Wake County schools.
Hedrick, 62, died Tuesday morning after going for a run, said Wake schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten.
Before Hedrick took the helm at Athens Drive High in West Raleigh in 2014, he worked nine years as principal at Green Hope High School in Cary.
Hedrick’s wife, Camille Hedrick, is the principal of Panther Creek High School in Cary.
Hedrick was well-liked and respected by his colleagues, said Thilman, who learned of his friend’s death at a summer leadership conference for Wake County school administrators on Tuesday.
“The room – honestly, it was just silent in shock and disbelief,” Thilman said.
Hedrick earned a bachelor’s degree from Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and a master’s degree from the University of Virginia. He went on to earn a doctoral degree in educational leadership and policy studies from Virginia Tech, according to Wake schools.
Hedrick was an administrator at a high school in Winchester, Va., before he came to Wake County, Luten said.
Before Thilman took a job in the central office, he served as principal of West Cary Middle School from 2004 to 2007 and principal of Cary High until 2013.
Cary High and Athens Drive, located about five miles apart, are often sports rivals. So Hedrick and Thilman frequently crossed paths.
“We had a very friendly, competitive relationship with those two Cary (area) high schools,” he said.
Thilman said Hedrick was a strong leader who had a knack for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of people who worked for him.
“He knew his people so well that he would always find a way to guide them to the right position,” Thilman said.
He said Hedrick, a father and grandfather, was deeply committed to family and always found time in his busy schedule to be with them.
“It just really demonstrated who he was as a family man,” Thilman said.
The Athens Oracle, Athens Drive’s student newspaper site, reported in May 2014 that Hedrick and his wife moved to North Carolina because Camille is from the area and they wanted to be closer to family.
The article said Hedrick had high expectations for everyone at Athens Drive, and he planned to improve the school.
“I believe that Athens is on the verge of being a ‘great’ school and I wanted to be a contributing part of that,” Hedrick said in the article. “It’s going to take a lot of work by the students, the staff, the administration and the community to take that next step from ‘good to great.’ But it can be done if we are committed to making the changes needed.”
On Tuesday, some people expressed their condolences for Hedrick on social media.
Hanna Ibrahim, a 16-year-old rising senior at Athens Drive, said she and her peers asked Hedrick to play the role of a murder victim in a video they made for their forensics class. They were surprised when he agreed.
Some students thought Hedrick was strict, but Ibrahim said she believed he was trying to make students better people.
“They thought he was being strict and stuff,” she said. “But he was actually trying to help us.”
In the busy halls, Hedrick seemed to always have time to talk with students, Ibrahim said.
“I’d always see him in the hallway, and he would always smile and ask me how my day was,” she said.
Thilman said Hedrick approached being a high school principal with passion – and sometimes with a joke.
“He enjoyed (his job) so much that you saw the passion and the humor come out,” Thilman said.
An interim principal is expected to be named at Athens Drive, Luten said. This fall, the school is becoming a magnet with a medical health sciences theme.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi