Clovis says goodbye to the great Doc Buchanan

On Tuesday, August 11, Clovis lost one of its greatest icons—the legendary Floyd “Doc” Buchanan, who passed away at age 91.

Doc was a champion of education, serving as the first superintendent of the Clovis Unified School District from 1960 to 1991. Under his leadership, the district excelled and garnered national recognition. Even after stepping down from his post as superintendent, the great Doc—whose name will forever be a fixture in the community thanks to Buchanan High School—never stopped striving to better the lives of kids in Clovis.

Just weeks before his passing, Doc stepped up on his soap box again, championing on behalf of Clovis Unified students in writing a letter published in the July 15 issue of the Clovis Roundup about the need for the same collegiate programs and services at the new Clovis Community College as are offered at Fresno City College.

“It’s time for residents living in the Clovis Unified School District to have a comprehensive college and that means facilities for vocational education training,” Buchanan wrote.

A champion for Clovis up until the very end—that is how today’s Clovis Unified leaders, who looked to Buchanan as their mentor, will remember him.

At a press conference held August 11, current Clovis Unified Superintendent Janet Young and other district administrators shared their memories of the late district leader.

“Today, with the passing of Floyd “Doc” Buchanan, the world lost a visionary genius,” Young said. “As we prepare to start Clovis Unified’s 56th school year, the news of Doc’s passing is especially poignant. Clovis Unified’s team of educators and leaders are committed to carrying on Doc’s legacy to make the positive difference in the lives of students now and far into the future.”

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Young said Buchanan’s impact was so far-reaching, that government officials throughout the state and nation reached out to her and other Clovis Unified administrators within hours of his passing. His influence, vision and legacy, she said, will live on.

“Everything that you see around us in the Clovis Unified School District was built and was the vision of Dr. Buchanan,” Young said. “Doc had very high standards and all of us here today continue to live those out. Doc taught us all to be the best we can be in mind, body and spirit. He taught us to remember to give a fair break for every kid, that everyone’s right to an education in non-negotiable and if you want to build winners, you need to surround children with winners and that education is built on teamwork and trust and it’s people not programs that make the positive difference. That is the legacy of Doc Buchanan. Those are our core values, the foundations upon which the Clovis Unified School District still, 55 years after it was formed, lives out today.”

Young was not the only district leader to share her memories of the great leader.

Deputy Superintendent Carlo Prandini said while it is sad to lose Doc, that this is also a good time to reflect on his life and celebrate a life well lived. Prandini said he still recalls the day Doc hired him and the passion he had for kids in the district.

“Doc Buchanan hired me in 1978 and I can remember that first interview vividly,” Prandini said. “He actually interviewed me two other times as I was applying to various jobs, and I went from a track coach which he initially hired me as in 1978 to an athletic director and to a learning director. He gave me my start and his message was always very clear from that first interview. He talked about kids, he talked about taking care of kids and he asked me then to do my very best to take care of “our” kids and I promised him way back when in 1978 that I would do that.”

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Even at age 91, Prandini said Doc never stopped coming by the district office to put a bug in his ear about this or that: Doc always had a new idea to share that he thought would make the district even better.

“Only a week before he passed he was walking around the district office,” Prandini said. “I don’t know what his excuse was for being there that particular day but he stopped me for a second and he said ‘you know the bus station over there at Clovis High? I have some ideas and need to talk to you about that.’ So from the very beginning he was talking about kids and taking care of them to the very end. He wanted to make sure that Clovis Unified would be better tomorrow then it is today.”

Prandini continued: “We are all committed to Doc’s legacy and keeping his standards and culture alive and making this district better, 20, 30, 40 years from now when your kids, my grandkids and the students in this community and the people in this community can still say that no matter how big Clovis Unified gets or how the times change that we’re still the standard for excellence and we provide quality of education for everyone.”

Debbie Parra, the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, also shared her memories of Doc as a mentor.

“Doc hired me as a teacher and at that moment he became my mentor,” Parra said. “He always talked to me about how to teach. He had this great reading program, this math program, a behavioral improvement program—Doc was just amazing. Over the years he continued to watch us and encourage us. A few years after I started teaching, I got married, and my husband is a Clovis High graduate and Doc had been his little league coach. From that time forward he wasn’t just our mentor, he was our friend and he would always call us up and ask us how we were doing and once we had kids, he came and saw the kids and encouraged them. My kids are now in college. That is how long Doc stays with people and cares about them.”

As his friend, Parra said she was always amazed by how many people would stop Doc when they were out in public.

“I’ve been so lucky to be his friend and go out with him in public and do things.” Parra said. “It’s always amazing to me how many people would come up to him and ask “aren’t you Doc Buchanan, didn’t you do something for Clovis Unified, weren’t you the superintendent” and talk about how great their kids are doing because of the foundation that Doc put in place in Clovis Unified. I would watch those interactions with a combination of love, respect and admiration and I sat there thinking if I end my career and people come up to me or say even behind my back the things they said about Doc about me then that is a career well spent.”

For Assistant Superintendent of Facility Services Don Ulrich, Doc Buchanan was the reason he continued to teach. When he first heard Doc speak at a class he was taking at Fresno Pacific University, Ulrich was unsure about his future in education. It was 1985 and Ulrich had been teaching in a different school district for two years and didn’t know whether or not he wanted to continue teaching. Hearing Doc speak made him decide to stick with it.

“He talked about his vision for education and about high standards for all kids, about high standards for all employees, about facilities that are second to none and I remember him saying “Don’t our kids deserve to participate, compete and learn in the best facilities in the world?” and that lit a match for me and my career and made the difference,” Ulrich said. “I would not be here in the position I’m in, probably not even living in Clovis and Clovis Unified, where I’ve raised three beautiful daughters with my wife who teaches for the district, if it weren’t for Doc Buchanan and the message he could deliver and image he could paint for me as a person at that time in my life. He spent a career painting a vision and fulfilling it and making sure it was fulfilled for all the kids in Clovis Unified.”

Ricci Ulrich, no relation to Don Ulrich, is the current principal of Doc Buchanan’s namesake school Buchanan High School. She said she is proud to be a product of the district Doc built.

During the ceremony, beneath Doc’s statue on campus was an empty chair which Ulrich explained was there as a place for Doc, who would frequently visit.

“It symbolizes the original furniture of Buchanan High School, which we are now beginning to replace but we couldn’t part with because so often Doc showed up here at events and there was always a chair out for him whether we knew he was coming or he had to pass up because he was at a sister school,” Ulrich said.

Ulrich said students and educators alike loved Doc because he made each person feel special.

We all know Doc’s Charge but at the time I was hired I did not know about Doc’s Charge, but the words he said to me, and I recall them vividly, were ‘we know that by hiring you, you will do what is right for our children even when no one is looking” and I just felt this overwhelming trust that this man put in me to guide children in Clovis Unified,” Ulrich said. “Later, as I became a teacher and a coach and an administrator, I learned he told everyone that but I thought that it was special for me and I embraced it and took it to heart and now I teach the kids the same way Doc taught me.”

Pa Vue, the principal of Red Bank Elementary School said before even meeting Doc that his values spoke to her as a student who immigrated to America.

“Not every immigrant family is so lucky to immigrate to America and find such an excellent school district like Clovis Unified,” Vue said. “While I was a student when Doc was superintendent here, I may not have met him directly, but all of his core values I resonated with, specially the fair break for every kid. That really resonates with me because I came to America not knowing how to speak, read or write English and although I didn’t meet him directly at the time, I worked with all the people he worked with and this message was clearly sent to me as a student that they believed in me and as I continued to be educated in Clovis Unified, I quickly found out that I had people who believed in me and I came back as an educator and they continued to mentor me. What a legend he left behind. As an immigrant, Doc not only built a first class school district, he built a home for my family.”

It wasn’t just educators and students who were touched by Doc and his message—it was everyone Doc interacted with.

Charles Hensen, the Supervisor of Grounds for Clovis Unified, said he first met Doc as a 5-year-old kid and was later hired by him at age 20—a third generation employee in the district. Hensen said he “started on the bottom” mowing and edging lawns at each campus, but even though he was at the “bottom,” Doc still made the effort to approach him to let him know he was doing an excellent job.

“I was edging the lawn at one of the elementary schools and it was the middle of the day, 105 degrees, and I was all the way at the back end of the campus and I look up and see this man coming across the field and I sat there looking at him wondering what was going on and I recognized it was Doc,” Hensen said. “He was at the site for a meeting with the principal and the first effort he made was to come outside and walk all the way across the field in the heat to recognize me and thank me for my hard work. I’ll never forget that moment and how it made me feel. I was the lowest person just edging the grass but first he took the step to come and visit me and tell me I was doing a great job. I try to live up to that with my employees now. He was an awesome man.”

Doc Buchanan left behind quite a legacy for Clovis Unified.

Here are just a few facts about Buchanan, as shared by Clovis Museum’s Peg Bos in the Sept. 13, 2012 edition of the Clovis Roundup:

Two basic standards guided his decisions: “Is it good for the kids?” “Every kid deserves a good education.” He is a brilliant visionary with a tenacious focus on goals. He believes that all students deserve an education that will prepare them for future opportunities in life.

“Doc-ism”: “We’re too poor to buy cheap.” He was quick to assure our rural-conservative population that it was best to buy an expensive “Cadillac” over a cheaper model since it would last twice as long. The taxpayers were converted and historically have supported school bonds for new schools and upgrading of older schools. Inner city schools in Clovis have not been neglected. It is standard procedure to maintain quality teachers, resources and equipment at all schools.

“Doc-ism”: “Document the facts, minimize the variables and 90% of your goals will be achieved.” Doc believed that variables are excuses for not accomplishing a task.  

“Doc-ism”: “Value people above programs.” Doc interviewed every new teacher and staff member. He was very perceptive and hired those who were intelligent and had a passion for excellence. Doc believed everyone was accountable for their professional performance. He was quick to remove barriers, establish factual goals, and give his employees professional freedom. He stated: “Make sure there aren’t too many people in charge, give teachers the best materials and then stand back and cheer them on.”

“Doc-ism”: “Competition is a good motivator.” Doc believes everyone wants to be a winner and competition builds strength and endurance. Six months into his new position, disgruntled “Clovis Boosters” met with him with major concerns. He convinced them that change was good. At the close of the meeting he was invited to join the club.

“Doc-ism”: “4-3 vote of the Board of Trustees is a majority decision.” Doc respected the “loyal opposition”. He honored tradition and values but was a visible, strong, determined leader of educational change. The 1960 unification of seven independent districts created open antagonism. Doc and the dress code were key issues in a 1964 recall that failed. He still admires the dedication and support of four trustees that remained loyal to his vision. He understood that they were life long members of this community and would not relocate as he would if the recall prevailed.

Former Board member Ralph Lynn recorded “Platitudinous Preachments of Doc”:

“A school district without accountability is like a car without breaks.” “There is nothing worse than a fired up untrained gladiator” “Success is not   final and failure need not be permanent.” “Win with class, loose with dignity.” “What do you think would happen if we let the kids in on what we are doing?” “Don’t get on your educational horse and ride off without the kids.” “If you are being burned at the stake, you may have carried too much wood.”