Sherri Vinings remembers her first interaction — more than 35 years ago — with former Buford High School principal Charles Musselwhite.

Vinings — then Sherri Kimbro — hadn’t been a college graduate for a full week when she got an interview for a math teaching position at Buford High School in 1984.

It was the only professional interview she ever had. She worked at Buford High for 30 years, retiring six years ago.

“I got to visit with Mr. Musselwhite a week ago, and I said, ‘You know that’s the only interview I’ve ever had,’” Vinings said. “He kind of grinned and said, ‘The only one you ever needed.’”

Musselwhite, who died Monday at the age of 87, was the Buford High School principal starting in 1978. It was his last job in teaching administration, according to his obituary. He retired from education administration in 1987.

Though she only worked for him three years, Vinings said he made an impact on her as a young professional. She felt like he took a chance on her as a 21-year-old teaching mostly 18-year-old students. He called her a “rookie.”

“He was inspiring,” Vinings said. “He set the bar high for students and teachers, but he did it in a way where you wanted to do well.”

The Cordele native was a Korean War Air Force veteran and was heavily involved in high school athletics throughout his career. Musselwhite was a football, basketball and baseball coach at the high school and college levels and spent years as an athletics director before moving to Gainesville.

His obituary said Musselwhite came to Gainesville in 1968 to become assistant principal at Gainesville High School, where he stayed until 1976. After leaving Gainesville High School, he became Executive Secretary of Georgia High School Association for two years.

His first year as principal at Buford, 1978, was a historic one from an athletics perspective. The Wolves won Gwinnett County’s first football state championship that year under head coach Ed Cochran.

Musselwhite’s support, according to Cochran, was invaluable that season. Cochran said the former coach didn’t give special treatment to athletics and spread resources and care to arts and science at the growing high school throughout his tenure there.

“What I can say about this man is he was outstanding with great character and integrity,” Cochran said. “He always had something to say to you that was positive and uplifting. There are not enough adjectives to describe the type of person he was.”

With students, Musselwhite earned a reputation for being stern but fair. He walked the hallways with pearl-white shoes and was known for his catchphrase, “Roses to you.” It was his personal way of giving kudos to his faculty and students. Vinings said he was sharp when it came to remembering names of students — even years later.

Perry Pealock, a sophomore when Musselwhite came to Buford, stayed in touch with the former principal after he graduated. The last time Pealock saw Musselwhite was at an impromptu 36-year class reunion.

“He always attended any kind of function we had,” Pealock said. “When you first meet him, he’s there for you. He’s there to get you an education and teach you about life. Before him, I never had any principals like that.”

Pealock remembers Musselwhite’s inclination to dress spiffy, which sometimes included wearing white shoes.

“He didn’t have a problem wearing them for everyone to see them at school,” Pealock said.

Musselwhite made a great effort to remain a part of the Buford community even after stepping away from the school. He often attended Buford football games and was an avid messenger on Facebook, where he kept up with former teachers, administrators and coaches.

Vinings last saw him July 5, three days before he died. They had a conversation and Vinings brought him a devotional book with the title “Strong and Courageous.”

“I only worked for him for three years,” Vinings said. “But of all the people I worked with, he’s touched my life more than anybody. He’s bigger than life.”

Taylor Denman is a reporter born and raised in Gwinnett County. He came back home to seize the rare opportunity of telling stories about the county in which he grew up.