During the 34 years he worked for the Cambridge public schools, Charles Lewis Stead Sr. went far beyond his assigned duties. He made house calls if students were performing poorly, and rewarded students who improved by taking them to amusement parks or on his boat.
“He was a mentor for the children of Cambridge,” said his son Charles Jr. of Minneapolis. He added that he couldn’t walk down the street in Cambridge without running into former students who would say of his father: “He was tough on me, but he straightened me out.”
Mr. Stead, a longtime teacher and administrator in Cambridge’s schools, died of heart failure Aug. 4 in his Cambridge home. He was 74.
After beginning his career with the Cambridge school system in the mid-1960s, Mr. Stead worked in a number of roles, including math teacher, assistant principal, and principal, his family said.
Among his proudest accomplishments was becoming principal of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School, which replaced the Houghton School, the elementary school Mr. Stead had attended as a child, his family members said.
Mr. Stead also told his family he was proud of being the first black man from Cambridge hired to work in the city school district. His family said he was responsible for hiring minority personnel, who were underrepresented in the schools.
Along with his work at the King school, he served as interim principal at the former Roberts School, and was a supervisor of federal Title I grants.
“He faced a lot of racial adversity,” his son said. “And he overcame it through being positive and excelling.”
In 1968, Mr. Stead was a spokesman for the Cambridge Black Community organization, which advocated for greater minority representation in city jobs. In May 1968, the organization held a peaceful demonstration and met with the Cambridge City Council for two hours to air 32 complaints about a variety of issues.
“I think the council observed the large numbers outside City Hall and realized we are larger than a committee of 15 or 20 people,” Mr. Stead told the Globe afterward. “If nothing else, the council realized just who we are, and that the black community means the community at large.”
Mr. Stead’s family said he also helped launch the Cambridge school system’s English as a second language and bilingual programs.
Harvard University selected Mr. Stead for a James Bryant Conant Fellowship, which were awarded to teachers and administrators in the Boston and Cambridge public school systems. Mr. Stead retired in 1998.
“He conquered racial inequality with a vengeance,” said his son Michael of Cambridge. “He was very outspoken.”
Michael recalled his father as someone who was very determined, and added that Mr. Stead “commanded respect on all levels, from all walks of life.”
He said Mr. Stead always kept his children busy, and regularly took them fishing, boating, and camping. In the early 1970s, Mr. Stead led his family on a two-month, cross-country road trip during which they visited 44 states, skipping only Hawaii, Alaska, and four southern states.
“It was always adventure,” Michael said. “It was never a dull moment.”
Mr. Stead, who was born and grew up in Cambridge, was the third of five siblings and was known as Charlie. He attended the former Rindge Technical High School, graduating in 1955. While at Rindge, he was a state champion runner and high jumper on the track and field team.
Mr. Stead went to Villanova University in Pennsylvania, graduating in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in education. In 1967, he received a master’s degree in education from Boston State College.
He continued his track and field success at Villanova. When Mr. Stead was inducted into the Villanova Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 1984, the citation called him “a talented high jumper and standout quarter-miler,” and said he “was an integral part of the legendary Penn Relays teams and won four gold watches at the annual Relay Carnival. He won two IC4A high jump titles and cleared 6-9 ½ to win in 1959, still the fourth best jump in Villanova history.”
Mr. Stead also established a number of businesses, his family said. In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, he and his former wife ran a fish and chips restaurant in Cambridge, serving seafood and soul food. His marriage to the former Grayce Lynch, of Cambridge, ended in divorce.
Mr. Stead also was a commercial lobsterman, and about 10 years ago he founded a private bus company.
A skilled builder and carpenter, Mr. Stead would execute projects from design to completion. “He could do anything: plumbing, heating, electrical,” Michael said. “He was pretty much a jack of all trades.”
In his spare time, Mr. Stead coached boys’ basketball at the former Cambridge High and Latin School, and his family believes he was the first black coach for the Cambridge schools. He also worked as a college basketball referee.
A service has been held for Mr. Stead, who in addition to his sons Charles and Michael and his former wife leaves his partner, Carmen Carter of Boston; a daughter, Deborah of Cambridge; another son, Christopher Haynes of Malden; a brother, Lawrence; two sisters, Osberta Harris of Attleboro and Laraine Langston of Randolph; and a granddaughter.
Along with working for the Cambridge schools, Mr. Stead counseled youth at the Cambridge Community Center and helped found a scholarship fund, named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to help students pay for college.
“He was no-nonsense so that a person could grow and learn,” Charles said. “He was always, always teaching.”Katherine Landergan
can be reached at