Albert Thompson, who served as superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools during crisis-filled years from 1990 to 1996, died Wednesday in Sisters Hospital after suffering a heart attack at home. He was 63.
Thompson, the first African-American to serve as school superintendent in the city, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow, in April 1995.
Considered a numbers wizard and a nuts-and-bolts leader, he began his 41-year career with the district in 1955 as an industrial arts teacher. He moved to the central office in 1969 and was named an associate superintendent in 1985.
He served as interim superintendent for a year after the departure of his predecessor, Eugene Reville.
"Fiscally, my time was the worst time to be superintendent," he said in a farewell interview on his last day on the job in 1996. "In six years, there was only one year we had a reasonable increase in school aid. Other than that one year, we've had one trauma after the other."
He cited as major accomplishments the establishment of several Quality Schools programs, the expansion of gifted-and-talented programs and construction of the Makowski Early Childhood Center.
Thompson said he also was proud of the growth in business partnerships with schools, which totaled more than 75 when he retired.
He said he would like to be remembered as "somebody who did the best he could."
A Buffalo News editorial praised him upon his retirement for "his personal demeanor, professionalism and sense of integrity."
Born in Buffalo, he attended School 17 and Burgard Vocational High School, where he ran cross country and was on the track team, student newspaper and Student Council.
At the same time, he helped support his family after his father, a Pullman porter, suffered a stroke and died when Thompson was 13.
"We were a welfare family," Thompson said. "My mother did curtains, washing, ironing. I had a job mopping, sweeping, working in the corner store."
At Buffalo State Teachers College, he ran cross country and was a straight-A student. Drafted into the Army, he served in the Signal Corps in Europe.
Thompson's first job as an industrial arts teacher was at School 17. He next went to School 73, where he was building representative to the Buffalo Teachers Federation and encouraged girls to take industrial arts.
Active in volunteer youth work, he met his wife, Freddie, a registered nurse, when they worked together in the Police Athletic League youth program.
During the 1960s, he was a community activist and an area vice president of BUILD. As a member of the Civic Betterment League, he helped create the first independent Head Start program in the Walls Community Center on Glenwood Avenue.
Thompson later taught at Woodlawn Junior High School and in 1969 was assigned to the central administration's Division of Finance and Research. In 1979, he was named an assistant superintendent of schools for finance after serving in that role with a lesser title for four years.
In 1985, Reville named him deputy superintendent, the second-highest position in the system.
In addition to serving as a school administrator, he was Sunday school superintendent for 25 years at Second Temple Baptist Church and was a church trustee.
Surviving, in addition to his wife, are a son, A. Jeffery, and a daughter, Jennifer.
A funeral will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. in Second Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 812 E. Delavan Ave. Interment will be in Acacia Park Cemetery, Pendleton.