Local Obituaries

Joe P. Ross, who led Fort Worth school district after scandal, dies at 80

Former interim superintendent Joe Ross is shown at home in this 2004 photo.
Former interim superintendent Joe Ross is shown at home in this 2004 photo. jlmarshall@star-telegram.com

Joe P. Ross, who came out of retirement to become the Fort Worth school district’s interim superintendent during a time of crisis, died at his home in Fort Worth on Saturday.

A graveside service will be at 10 a.m. Friday at the Grandview Cemetery in Grandview, and a memorial service will be at 3 p.m. at Arborlawn United Methodist Church, 5001 Briarhaven Road in Fort Worth.

Mr. Ross, 80, was the interim superintendent from July 2004 until July 2005, holding the school district’s top post between superintendents Thomas Tocco and Melody Johnson.

“He willingly assumed the hot seat immediately following a very difficult, challenging time in the district and steadied a very big ship,” Johnson said via email. “He was courageous in his leadership, held his ground on the difficult decisions, and stood strong in the winds. He is a man who made a difference and will be greatly missed.”

He viewed himself as the temporary superintendent — he didn’t like the term “interim,” according to the Star-Telegram archives. He oversaw the Fort Worth school district as it was trying to overcome a construction billing scandal that left an administrator and contractor in prison. Under Tocco’s leadership, millions of dollars were stolen from children and taxpayers.

In a 2004 article, Mr. Ross said it wasn’t an easy time.

“When I got here, I started having a lot of sleepless nights, and I would wake up at 2 and 3 in the morning trying to figure out solutions to the problems that I was encountering,” Mr. Ross said. “There is no way you can explain the difficulties encountered by a superintendent. It is a difficult job. They don't prepare you for this job.”

His daughter, Sarah Jane Ross Fettinger of Fort Worth, said that the time as superintendent was challenging.

“It was a time I remember it was hard on my family because it was hard on my dad,” Fettinger said.

Former Fort Worth district board President William Koehler said Mr. Ross helped him as newly elected chairman of the trustees. He referred to a speech he gave at a 2005 reception.

“Rather than shut me out, he brought me in,” Koehler said at a 2005 reception honoring Mr. Ross. “And he made me a part of the team. I will be grateful forever that last year Joe Ross extended his hand in friendship and helped me professionally.”

Mr. Ross was born on Aug. 31, 1936, in Fort Worth but was raised on a Hill County farm near Covington that his family has operated since his grandfather bought it in 1896. He graduated from Grandview High School and then was offered a scholarship to play football at Baylor University.

He married Sandra Fowler in November 1960, and they moved to Cleburne, where they were both offered teaching positions. After a brief move to Tuscon, Ariz., where Sandra earned her master’s degree, they came to the Fort Worth district in 1969, when Mr. Ross became a history teacher at William James Middle School.

He obtained his master’s degree from Abilene Christian University and became special assistant to the superintendent in 1973 and assistant superintendent in 1980. He retired in 1980 but came back as interim superintendent in 2004 before retiring again in 2005.

After retirement, he returned to the family farm in Hill County, but he would come back to Fort Worth every Saturday for Sunday school and church services at Arborlawn.

In 2008, he was diagnosed with espohageal cancer. A few months later, Sandra died unexpectedly.

His cancer returned in 2015, and he eventually decided to end chemotherapy treatments, his children said.

Survivors include his daughter; one son, Robert Pitts Ross II of Fort Worth; and four grandchildren.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna