A funeral will be held Friday for Ted D. Kimbrough, whose 40-year career as an educator included a stint as Chicago’s school superintendent for three tumultuous years in the early 1990s.
Mr. Kimbrough died April 16 in Los Angeles of complications of Alzheimer’s disease, according to his family. He was 83.
Born Theopolis Dudley Kimbrough in Chicago, he grew up on Dodge Avenue in Evanston. After deliveries from the milkman, he liked to zip around the neighborhood sipping the cream off the tops of milk bottles. He went to Evanston Township High School and played for the school football team, the Wildkits, according to his son Blake.
Mr. Kimbrough got his bachelor’s degree in education from Northern Illinois University and a master’s degree in education from California State University in Los Angeles, his son said.
He spent 26 years with the Los Angeles Unified School District and served as school chief in Compton, California, before arriving in Chicago in 1990. Mr. Kimbrough was hired to help guide the system through its early days of school reform, a titanic shift of authority from the schools’ central-office headquarters to newly elected and empowered local school councils.
Not unexpectedly, the historic decentralization was a rocky one. Power squabbles included assertions that LSCs based hiring on race or ethnicity and that contracts were given to cronies.
Within two years, Mayor Richard M. Daley was hinting he was disenchanted with Mr. Kimbrough and student performance. But the superintendent said he couldn’t be fully responsible for a system where major decisions were made by LSCs and the principals they hired.
In addition to the landmark reform effort, Mr. Kimbrough also had to deal with the system’s regular financial crises.
By 1993, the Chicago school board bought out his contract. He went on to serve as superintendent of schools in Sacramento. He retired in 1997.
In 1956, Mr. Kimbrough married Sherrill Ann Davis. The interracial couple thought a move to California would help insulate them from hostility. But when they tried to buy their first house, their son said they “were declined because there were covenants in certain localities still on the books that did not allow property sales to black people.”
The couple, whose marriage ended in divorce, had four sons: Mark, Sean, Bret and Blake Kimbrough.
In 1974, Mr. Kimbrough married Patricia Ann Jones, who had roots in the Cane River region of Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. She brought five girls to the marriage: Sharon Schaffer, Shelli Lewis, Toni Ballard, Teri Schaffer and Donna Schaffer.
The couple liked taking their combined brood of nine kids to Louisiana, where Mr. Kimbrough organized boating, fishing and water-skiing as well as catching turtles for soup. He liked making gumbo with file powder brought back from Louisiana.
A career highlight for Mr. Kimbrough came when he was recognized for his work with students of Samoan heritage in Compton while he was that city’s school superintendent. He flew to the Samoan islands for a ceremony featuring traditional lavalava clothing and the bestowal of an honorary Samoan name, his son said.
In addition to their nine children, Mr. Kimbrough is survived by his wife Patricia and nine grandchildren.
He always loved Evanston, according to his son, who said, “This small, black community, like many others during the first half of the 20th century, instilled pride, confidence and optimism.”
Services are planned for 1 p.m. Friday at Holy Cross Mortuary in Culver City, California.