Dr. Linda Gilbert was a servant who loved kids not because that was her job, but because that is who she was, her friends and colleagues say.
The Murfreesboro City Schools director, age 69, died Wednesday following a stroke.
Gilbert was appointed director of schools in 2009.
She attended Bethel United Methodist Church, where she had played the organ since age 15, said church member Robert Bates.
Gilbert, who played the organ for more than 50 years, was Bethel’s only organist and pianist, said Robert’s wife, Barbara Bates.
Gilbert and her husband, Steve, were “pillars of the church,” Barbara Bates said. The Gilberts gave a lot of help behind the scenes. They often hosted a hayride and bonfire for children from the church on Halloweens. Barbara said one of her friends, who was a teacher at a middle school, said that Gilbert always provided help with grant writing when asked. She always made sure school children had food.
“She was a real teacher’s teacher,” Barbara Bates said. “She’s going to leave a big, big void in the church, in the community, in the schools. Her love for children did not end at 5 o’clock in the afternoon.”
Gilbert also played music once a month at the Tennessee State Veterans’ Home, said Butch Campbell, MCS Board chairman.
MCS issued a statement Wednesday that said, “We are heartbroken to announce that our friend, mentor and boss, Dr. Linda Gilbert, passed away earlier this afternoon. Dr. Gilbert has served Murfreesboro City Schools and the community with compassion and fervor for many years. She was a dedicated mother, grandmother and educator and will be truly missed.
“Dr. Gilbert received numerous awards throughout her teaching career including the Tennessee Teacher of the Year and Tennessee Superintendent of the Year. However, the awards did not define her. She was defined by the passion for her family, her church, and the children and staff of Murfreesboro City Schools. Please keep the Gilbert (family) and MCS families in your prayers,” the statement concluded.
Gilbert’s counterpart, Bill Spurlock, superintendent of Rutherford County Schools, said, “Dr. Gilbert spent her lifetime dedicated to serving children, and our community has lost a great advocate of public education. She was a valuable colleague, and I will miss her friendship. Our prayers are with her family and the city of Murfreesboro as they mourn this tragic loss.”
Campbell said, “Linda Gilbert was an extraordinary school leader. She was always concerned not only about the students, but the staff and everybody. She had excellent vision for what was coming along in the future, and she worked hard.”
Campbell said he spoke to Gilbert as recently as Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and she was fine and even “cut up a little.”
“I can’t say enough about her leadership and what she has helped to do with this school system,” Campbell said. “She was very much a team player. We’re going to miss her. We’ve lost an icon.”
In 2009, when Gilbert was appointed superintendent, School Board member Ray Butrum said, “There is no more natural connection than we could have found than Dr. Linda Gilbert,” according to a Murfreesboro Post story.
As a former MCS employee, the 1997 Tennessee Teacher of the Year winner served as Community Relations coordinator, associate director of Instruction, and music teacher at Black Fox, Reeves-Rogers and Mitchell Neilson Elementary schools, the story said.
Gilbert won the 2019 ATHENA International Leadership Award.
Funeral arrangements had not been announced as of press time.