Finishing the job: Fred Lilly reflects on his career with the Camden Fairview School District

Fred Lilly stands along that back row with members of the Lady Cardinals 7AAA State Championship team in 1993.
Fred Lilly stands along that back row with members of the Lady Cardinals 7AAA State Championship team in 1993.

“I guess I’m living proof that you can come back and start at the town you grew up in, and work your way up,” Former Camden Fairview Superintendent Fred Lilly said a couple weeks before his retirement during an interview with the Camden News. “You don’t see that too often. I’ve been blessed and I have enjoyed the journey.”

Lilly has seen a lot in his 42 years with the school district. After graduating as an accomplished student athlete from the then Camden School District, Lilly returned home after college and worked as a PE teacher and coach for the then Fairview School District. He was already a veteran coach and teacher when the districts combined in the early 90’s and worked his way up through Camden Fairview gaining friendships and learning along the way.

A year and a half ago, Lilly was voted by the CF School Board to serve as the district’s superintendent after serving as the interim following former superintendent Mark Keith’s retirement during the middle of the school year.

“I had been an assistant superintendent and a deputy superintendent, that was the next step,” Lilly said. “I had been in the district so long and I had learned so much from past administrators. It was something I knew I was capable of doing especially with the staff that was around me.”

His time as superintendent wasn’t easy by a long shot. When Lilly stepped into the role, the district was still in the middle of a desegregation law suit and a personnel hearing. Then, following an officer involved incident that happened on the campus, the pandemic hit and CF like all other schools were faced with an unfamiliar and perhaps at the time unimaginable situation.

Lilly stayed as loyal to the district as he had the previous four decades and showed the necessary leadership to get through the challenges.

“There was no better person for the job,” CF School Board President Eddie Ray Moore said during the district’s end of the year awards ceremony. “He came in during a hard time and he didn’t waiver. He took care of students and our teachers and we are going to miss him.”

While the pandemic may not be over, it’s not as new as it once was. A blue print has been laid and more is known about the virus. Lilly feels at peace with his decision to move on.

“I became superintendent and that lasted about a year and a half,” Lilly said with laughter. “With Covid going on it felt like it was 10 years. I have no regrets. I’ve enjoyed my 42 years. My sisters, I guess were pushing for me to retire more than I was. They told me it was time to start a new chapter and do some things for myself because I kinda put everything else before me. I got 7 grand kids and the Lord has blessed me so that all of them are here. I’ve just really enjoyed the ride.”

That ride began as a P.E. and basketball coach in 1978. He reminisced on his brief stint in basketball before settling in as a successful Jr. High Football coach.

“I soon realized basketball wasn’t my forte,” Lilly said comically. “I think we were like 1-13 on the season. The kids played hard but we just couldn’t get it done. I left that and started teaching science my second year in 79. Then I moved up to JR high head football and found some success in that. We won conference a few times and that was the highest you could do in Jr High. Then I did some Sr. High Boys Track and was Head Sr. High Girls Track Coach.

It was there when Lilly captured a state championship as a coach in 1993. Camden Fairview brought home two state title in track with Lilly coaching the varsity girls and Roger Bocox coaching the varsity boys. It was perfect timing as Lilly had just completed his studies to go into administration.

“I had started going back to school to get my degree in administration,” Lilly explained. “Mr. Rodney Zachary at the time was the athletic director and he told me, ‘If you win a state championship, I’ll let you out.’ And we won a state championship that year. So he kept his word and they let me out. I ended up being the Dean of Students at the JR High which was 8th and 9th grade back then. I left there and went to the high school as an assistant principal for about a year. Then I moved back to Jr. High as principal and did that about four years before I left there and became Athletic Director and was over special programs. Then I served as assistant superintendent for a while before being deputy superintendent.”

After 26 years in administration, Lilly finally has a July off. Lilly shared that he has plans to travel and visit family but no plans to ever move from Camden. He spoke highly regarding the district’s future under incoming Superintendent Johnny Embry.

“They made that movie called The Bucket List and guess I got a bucket list of the things that I’d like to do,” Lilly shared. “I plan on still being in Camden. The district has been good to me. If there is anything I can ever do to help the school, I’m always going to be a strong supporter. I’m backing off and letting Mr. Embry have his own vision and do the things that he wants to do to take the district to the next level. Everything’s been good. I made a lot of friends and hopefully I’ve helped a lot of people along the way. During this pandemic I told myself that I had three things I wanted to do. No. 1 I wanted to make sure everybody was safe, that’s kids, staff and everybody during covid. No. 2 I wanted to make sure I took care of the kids first - educational, socially and emotionally. I wanted to make sure that I took care of them before I took care of anything else. Last but not least, I wanted to take care of my staff. That was the order and I can honestly say I didn’t change from that order. Safety was first, kids and then staff. I started that way and I finished up that way. Like I say it’s been a lot of people that have touched my life. A lot of administrators that came before me that had a hand in helping me to get where I’m at. Hopefully, I’ve been able to touch some lives and help them get where they’re at as well.”

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