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Originally published: 2012-07-24 08:56:38
Last modified: 2012-07-26 10:30:47

Dr. Phyllis H. Crain

Dr. Phyllis Horne Crain, 55, inspiring, gifted and inventive director, visionary and leader of The Crossnore School, since 1999, passed away peacefully in her home on the school's campus surrounded by loving family on Wednesday, July 18, 2012, after a long-standing, hard-fought battle with cancer.

Invoking the resolute and open-hearted spirit of school founder Mary Martin Sloop, Dr. Crain, in her dozen years as head of the school, fundamentally renovated the campus, adding six new cottages and building a new charter school, Crossnore Academy, from the ground up.
With the help of friends of the school, she installed utilities infrastructure, a fiber optic computer network, athletic fields, a fine arts center, and an equestrian complex. She re-imagined and renovated the original hospital building and preserved historic campus structures, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

She elevated staff professional development, gained national accreditations, instituted a new model of care called Sanctuary, developed a study curriculum involving student travel called "Classrooms Without Walls" and raised the school's endowment, many times out of sheer faith, determination and a brilliant ability to inspire, from $500,000 to more than $21 million.
In the recently published history of the school, A Legacy of Caring, released in June of this year, author Howard Covington quotes Dr. Crain as saying, "I was raised to work, and as long as I am vertical, I am serving the Lord. That is what life is about  doing what you can to make a difference. And in the end, there is peace."

Dr. William Friday, friend and advocate of Dr. Crain's and first and longest serving president of the University of North Carolina, says "Phyllis Crain, as school director, built a lasting monument of care."

Crossnore School Board Chairman, David Riggins, recalls "her passion for children and her unshakable Christian faith."

"She elevated Crossnore School," he says, "to a national model of excellence and Crossnore is a better place because she made it the focus of her life's work. We are deeply saddened by the loss of our dear friend."

In September of 2001, Dr. Crain was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer and given a year to live. During that year, the children of Crossnore put electric candles in the windows of their cottages, while Dr. Crain prayed and planned for the school without "one hint of retreat." Her cancer would go into remission for eight years, time to thrust herself into her "ministry" serving the children of Crossnore. "I just knew I wasn't finished," she told an interviewer at the time.
Receiving the Nancy Susan Reynolds Award given by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in 2008 (often referenced as North Carolina's "Nobel Prize"), Dr. Crain talked about the resiliency of the students at Crossnore and the importance of doing "all the good we can, wherever we can, for as long as we can."

"All we need,ยก"she would say time and time again, "is the commitment of friends in changing the trajectory of these lives in the balance."

Dr. Crain was born, Phyllis Diane Horne, on April 17, 1957.  Living in the Green Creek Community of Polk County, North Carolina, she learned a strong work ethic by example from her parents. She graduated from Polk Central High School in 1975.  After earning a bachelor of science from Wofford College and a master's degree in special needs education from Converse College, she finished her doctorate in education from the University of South Carolina.

She became the first woman to become superintendent of schools in North Carolina's Avery County in 1995. In that role, she constructed two new schools, raised funds and completed design work for a third. She reduced, by 50 percent, the number of children reading below grade level through innovative tutorial programs and doubled the number of graduating seniors entering college.

Longing for a career move that would offer "purity of purpose," she agreed to take a position as associate director of Crossnore School, a century-old residential education campus for abused and neglected children. Four months after she joined the staff, she was named the Executive Director in April of 1999.

Over her years as leader of the school, child and family advocacy professionals would stream into tiny Crossnore to seek time with Dr. Crain and gain a glimpse of "the Crossnore Way" the school's particular blend of healing care and experiential learning. Some of the latter derived from travel experiences, with children going on learning adventures to Cape Canaveral, Philadelphia and Gettysburg, for example, or from simple chores like taking care of the cottage's dog, another part of life "on the hill."

As Dr. Crain often wrote or said to audiences, "The one thing that every child takes with them from Crossnore is this: "I've been helped and now I have a noble obligation to help others." The beautiful legacy here is that we've created this new generation of givers, not takers."
Dr. Crain received the National Administrator of the Year from CORE (Coalition of Residential Education), the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award from the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, the Humanitarian Award from the World Children's Center in Atlanta, Woman of the Year in Avery County, and William Friday Award for humanitarian efforts in improving the human condition by the Park Scholars of North Carolina State University.
Over the last several years, Dr. Crain and her husband, Keith, enthusiastic world travelers, visited Italy, Greece, Egypt, Jerusalem, Iceland, Canada and South America between treatments for cancer. In Italy, she re-visited the art of the fresco, an art she brought to the Crossnore campus through a commission she gave to fresco artist, Ben Long, for Sloop Chapel, entitled "Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me," from a verse in Matthew. Dr. Crain and Keith were among those who sat up through the night to watch the artist and his assistants finish the image of Jesus and the children, some of whom were modeled after Crossnore boys and girls.
Dr. Crain is survived by her husband Keith; two children, Keith Crain II and Holly Crain Hanes and Holly's husband, David Hanes; three grandchildren, Haley, Hannah and Kyle Hanes; her parents Kenneth and Hazel Jackson Horne; brother Keith Horne, his wife, Patricia; niece, Kelli Horne Wilson;  sister, Sherry Horne Pageand  her husband, David; and nephews Christopher, Matthew and Daniel Page.

A Celebration of Life Ceremony will be held to honor Dr. Crain at 11 am Friday, July 27, 2012, at Camp Yonahnoka located at Linville Resorts in Linville, North Carolina. The family will receive friends following the ceremony.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested memorials be made to the Dr. Phyllis H. Crain Endowment Fund at The Crossnore School, P.O. Box 249, Crossnore, North Carolina, 28616.

An online guest register is available at
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