FAIRMONT — A lot of admirers will say goodbye Saturday to a man who dedicated his life to serving the Fairmont community.
Retired educator, humanitarian and community leader Ervin Richardson “E.R.” Gause died Tuesday at the age of 98 after devoting 70 years of his life to serving the town. Those who knew Gause described him as a cornerstone for the community, an advocate for youth and someone who helped build bridges when communities were segregated.
A funeral service is scheduled for 1 p.m. at First Baptist Church, located on North Main Street in Fairmont.
“If there has ever been a person who deserves the title as legend it’s Mr. E.R. Gause,” Fairmont Commissioner Charles Kemp said.
Kemp knew Gause most of his life and had the opportunity to work alongside him for many years.
“I’ve marveled at his love for young people, the devotion to the community, his Christian beliefs and his intellect, and I am amazed and astounded by the way that he lived his life and all that he contributed to this town,” Kemp said.
Town Manager Katrina Tatum was also lavish in her praise.
“Mr. Gause is an icon. He was an icon in Fairmont. I can tell you the numerous stories people told me about how good he was, and he taught them lessons in life,” she said. “He was always very good to me.”
Gause was born in Marion, S.C., growing up in the rural Britton Neck community. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and later returned to South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, S.C., where he graduated with a degree in Agriculture and met his future wife.
Gause moved to Fairmont in 1947 and accepted a position teaching agriculture at the all-black Rosenwald School. He was affectionately called Professor or Fess and was known as much for his care, concern and counsel as he was for being a disciplinarian.
He married Alma Williams in 1951, and they were known for opening their hearts and home to students and boy scouts.
“They had a special relationship. He would call her by her middle name, Christine,” said Winona Gause, his daughter and chairperson of the Fairmont Economic Development Committee.
After integration, he continued teaching vocational agriculture and horticulture for Fairmont City Schools and the Public Schools of Robeson County. He eventually became assistant principal of Fairmont High School.
Gause served as transportation supervisor for over 25 years.
He retired twice, leaving PSRC in June 1986 to return two months later and begin the new school year as the “part-time” transportation supervisor. Living only a block away, Gause maintained a connection to Rosenwald Elementary School.
Faced with health challenges, he retired in late 1999 and focused on other community interests and his nursery and landscaping business.
In addition to being an educator, he worked tirelessly in his church and community. For many years Gause served as a deacon and Sunday School teacher at First Baptist Church, which honored his service with an E.R. Gause Unity Day Celebration in October.
He worked with the Robeson County Board of Elections for more than 40 years. He registered residents, encouraged them to vote and served as a chief judge. He always emphasized the need to vote, even though he never ran for elected office.
“He never ran for anything. He approached that from a differed angle,” Winona Gause said. “He wasn’t about money or notoriety. He recognized the importance of making a difference.”
He was a dedicated Boy Scouts of America troop master. Under his guidance, Scouting became popular in Fairmont and it bridged racial divides as Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of Troop 354 included all races.
“He’s a caring and compassionate individual. He will be missed,” Mayor Charles Townsend said. “He was sincere about education and young people, and protecting young people at the same time.”
On Oct. 20, 2000, the town of Fairmont proclaimed E.R. Gause Day. The town also joined the PSRC Board of Education and the Fairmont Chapter of Rosenwald Alumni in paying a special tribute to Gause by naming the Rosenwald Elementary School auditorium in his honor. On Dec. 27, 2017, Gause was presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest civilian honor.
“We have received such an outpouring of support from so many people,” Winona Gause said. “I’m overwhelmed with emotion.
“Most people go to work every day and aren’t happy, but he always enjoyed what he did,” she added. “He never pushed me to do anything. He led by example.”
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at 910-416-5865 or [email protected]