Henry David Thoreau famously said that the only important thing is to have been important in the life of a child. Beloved former Wellington Elementary School Principal F.E. “Buz” Spooner passed away Thursday, Oct. 17 at age 85 after positively impacting the lives of tens of thousands of children in Wellington and across Palm Beach County.
Residing in Boynton Beach, he was born in Washburn, Maine. He served as the founding principal of the first school in Wellington. When it opened, it was the first time that children in the rapidly growing western communities did not have be bused east for school.
Spooner grew Wellington Elementary School from a cluster of portables in 1980 to a full-fledged school that once taught up to 1,500 students per year as the Palm Beach County School District raced to keep up with the area’s explosive growth.
He worked for 20 of his 43 years with the school district leading Wellington Elementary School, inspiring students with his unique style and zest for excellence.
“Charismatic. That’s the word that I would use to describe him,” said Elaine Cittadino, the original secretary of the school who worked with Spooner for 18 years. “He was always on the teachers’ side. He gave them plenty of latitude. He knew people’s strengths, and he let them play to their strengths.”
Beyond the school campus, Spooner became a well-known figure in the greater Wellington community.
“Charismatic is the word I’d use, too,” said Cathy West, who was hired by Spooner midway through the school’s inaugural year and knew him for 35 years. “He was a great boss to work for. He trusted the teachers and gave them a lot of freedom.”
West quoted Spooner as saying, “It’s better to get forgiven than it is to get permission.”
“It was a favorite saying,” agreed Susan Bierer, who also worked for Spooner at Wellington Elementary School and has kept in contact through the years. Several longtime employees have stayed in touch with Spooner since his retirement nearly 20 years ago.
“Every month, we were still meeting at Cheddar’s for dinner up until last month, and we’re going to meet there before the funeral in his honor on Saturday,” Bierer said.
Starting at Greenacres Elementary School, Spooner dedicated more than four decades to the school children of Palm Beach County. He was very active in the local Rotary Club, and he served many years as president of the Palm Beach County Safety Patrol. It was in that role that he touched the lives of fifth graders all over the county, working tirelessly to organize a massive movement of students from Palm Beach County to Washington, D.C., each year.
“He was so special,” Bierer said. “Teachers who worked for him will tell you he was the best principal they ever had in their careers. He was always supporting the teachers’ side.”
In this way, he generated an unusual degree of loyalty from his staff.
“His style was unique. He hired top-notch teachers,” Cittadino said. “He said, ‘I hire people smarter than me and let them do their job.’ He ran the school with a family environment, and children flourished under his leadership.”
Cittadino recalls Spooner reminding his staff that “everything is for the kids.”
“There are so many success stories that started with Wellington Elementary School under his leadership,” Cittadino added. “It was an A-rated school, and today those students are doctors and lawyers and professionals in the community.”
Cittadino and West also enjoyed his lighter side.
“He was quick-witted and a great storyteller,” Cittadino recalled. “He wrote poems, and not just a few lines, they were pages. He was a particularly special man.”
“I’ll always remember he was a poet,” West said. “His poetry was great. He was a man of many words — well-chosen words.
Spooner’s parents Wilda and Earl Spooner named him Francis Earl, a name he didn’t like, and he adopted the name of a character in a book he read as a child as soon as he could. Going by the moniker “Buz” his entire life, many did not know what the initials “F.E.” stood for.
Spooner was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Verlie, and his oldest son, David. He has three sons who survive him, Daniel, Steven and John, and five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held at his church of 50-plus years, Bethel Church at 4320 S. Congress Ave. in Palm Springs, on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 5 p.m. In lieu of flowers, it is requested that a love donation be made to Bethel Church in his name.