The Crossett community will say goodbye to a long-time public servant on Friday when Robert Cornelius is buried at Westview Cemetery.
Cornelius, 75, died at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences on April 30.
Though he was retired from the Georgia Pacific Paper Mill, Cornelius’ work in the community was wide, notably serving on the Crossett School District’s board for 32 years, 11 of which he was board president.
He was also a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam Conflict; an active Mason; and the Sunday school superintendent, chairman of the Board of Christian Education, and a trustee for New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. He was also a member of the Ouachita Baptist University Athletics Hall of Fame, inducted in 2010 for men’s basketball.
Cornelius officially resigned his position on the CSD board when the board members accepted his letter of resignation on April 13. He cited health concerns as the reason why he was leaving the position of public service he’d held for more than three decades.
Crossett School District Superintendent Gary Williams said Cornelius was someone a new school board member could trust when seeking support and guidance.
“When you spoke with Robert, the wisdom, the experience he was able to share, was always a blessing, a benefit,” Williams said.
“He is going to be missed. He was a fantastic servant for our community.”
Former Crossett Schools Superintendent Janice Warren, who now serves as the Pulaski County assistant superintendent for equity and pupil services, worked in the CSD for 34 years, 10 of which she was superintendent. She remembered Cornelius as someone whose center of attention was always on students and how to guarantee they got a good education.
“His focus was always on students,” Warren said. “He wanted what was best for students in Crossett schools, period. Then, his secondary focus was on teachers, what do we need to do for teachers.”
In his later years, Cornelius wasn’t able to attend every board meetings because of his health, but that didn’t change the care he had for the schools, Warren said.
“It is going to be a great loss to the community as well as the school,” she said. “Even in his illness, he still had the school at heart even though he could not attend those meetings.”
The respect Cornelius had in the community extended beyond his work with the schools, Warren said.
“Whether it was with the schools, or with a church appointment, or working with the Masons, he was liked; he was loved by the people there,” Warren said. “You generally don’t have that relationship with school board members. He was a respected individual.”
Cornelius is survived by his wife of 51 years, Emma Jean Cornelius; a son, Robert Cornelius Jr. and wife Rebecca, of Crossett; two daughters, Stacy Cornelius of Crossett and Shirlene Cornelius of Camden; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
His funeral will be 11 a.m. Friday at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Crossett with the Rev. Jesse Redford Jr. officiating. Burial will follow at Westview Cemetery under the direction of Cromwell Funeral Home.