Beekeeper, Gardener, Scuba Diver… Principal?

Menchville High School Principal Bobby Surry: a Modern Renaissance Man


Principal Bobby Surry congratulates the inductees on this prestigious honor.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a “Renaissance man” as “a person who has wide interests and is an expert in several areas.” Menchville High School can define this noun using only one name- Principal Bobby Surry.

The principal of Menchville is prominent educator on the Peninsula and a pillar of the Monarch community. He has served the school for many years and become well-known by students, staff, and alumni. What some students may not realize, however, is that the principal they see in the halls every day has a myriad of interests and activities outside of school.

Surry has many hobbies: traveling, scuba diving, skiing, gardening, and beekeeping, just to name a few. He has traveled to numerous countries across the globe, including: Switzerland, Italy, France, Mexico, Canada, Tanzania,  Australia, Central America, and many islands in the Caribbean.  Surry enjoys traveling anywhere that he can go scuba diving. In fact, in Australia, he went  SCUBA diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

When at home, Surry tends to an organic garden, where he raises his own vegetables. Surry decided to start his own garden because he is a vegetarian, and has been for over twenty-five years. He is also an avid beekeeper- an activity he was introduced to via a friend.  The bees keep the plants in his garden well pollinated.  Each hive contains anywhere from 75,000 to 100,000 bees. Surry tries his best to keep his bees healthy because hives are at risk of Colony Collapse Disorder (a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear according to the EPA). This principal’s love of nature, however, does not stop with plants and bees.

When he was a young boy, Surry “really wanted to work and do something with animals.” In fact, he has raised 25 raccoons, 5 baby deer, a few possums, and many other animals through the course of his life. However, when thinking about animal care as a career,  he “didn’t like the fact that some animals might die,” so he decided that veterinary care was not what he wanted to do.

While he once considered a job with animals, Surry had never dreamed of becoming a high school principal. If he could change his career now, he would be a teacher again because he is able to “get to know the kids” better than he can while being principal.

As a student, Surry attended Warwick High School, where he was voted  “Most School Spirited” by his class. He was “very involved in things at school.”  Surry participated in Key Club, Thespians, the student government, and Science Club.  He went to the State Science Fair Competition with his study of how the Urosalpinx cinerea (the Atlantic Oyster Drill Snail) is attracted to its prey.

Surry’s favorite class was biology, and Mrs. Betty Ward (his biology teacher) was his favorite teacher because “she was the instrumental person in me ultimately becoming a teacher or at least majoring in science.”  In high school, his hardest class was chemistry, but “in college it was probably more of the math, the advanced maths, like calculus.”

While at high school, Surry swam on the team, saying, “swimming was my best sport.”  At Warwick his favorite sports team to watch was “probably equal between basketball and football.”

Now, Surry is one of Menchville’s biggest sports fans. You will see him at almost every sporting event. When he first came to Menchville, he had never watched a lacrosse or field hockey game, and he didn’t know much about soccer.  By watching the students play, he has learned much more about these sports.  He enjoys the “enthusiasm of field hockey because our young ladies, they just love the sport.” He says “there isn’t a sport I don’t like, and it’s always fun watching a game with Mr. Edwards because he’s coaching every game on the side lines.”

After high school, Surry attended  Elon College, now Elon University, in North Carolina, majoring in biology. He wanted to go to a small school, and when he learned that Carolina Biological Supply was started in the basement of the university, he knew it was a perfect fit.  The four years he spent in North Carolina were the only years he has lived outside of Virginia. Surry has his Masters is in Marine Science and an endorsement in administration from the College of William and Mary.

Before Surry became a principal, he was a park ranger/naturalist at Newport News Park.  He says “as a park ranger, you also had to become a law enforcement officer.” Because of this, he had to attend the Police Academy, where he was an honor graduate. Many of his friends were police officers, so Surry thought, “you know that might be fun, to be a police officer.”  He went to work for the Newport News Police Department (NNPD) as a police officer, eventually becoming a detective. While working as a detective, Surry decided to get his teaching licence because he enjoyed going to school.  His friend and partner in the police department was getting a teaching certificate, which first gave him the idea to try and earn one himself.  For a while, Surry worked as both a biology teacher at Warwick High School and as a detective with the NNPD. He worked for the NNPD from midnight until eight in the morning, then at the high school from eight thirty to three thirty. After one year of working both jobs, he decided to “quit the police department and stay in teaching.”

From teaching, Surry moved into administration- first as an assistant principal at Poquoson Middle School and then as an assistant principal at Gildersleeve Middle School. He then became the head principal of Washington Middle School before going back to Gildersleeve in the head principal position.  In 2004, Surry became the fifth principal at Menchville. Surry says, slapping a hand on his desk for emphasis, “stereotypically the principal is the ironclad” of the school, but he tries to get away from that cliché at Menchville.

Surry says his favorite thing about Menchville is the students. School “would be so boring without them [the students].” In the summer, he thinks, “okay, I want the noise back in the halls, I want to see the faces and get to know the kids, that’s the greatest piece.” Surry says the best advice he can offer to freshmen is to “come to school and get involved.” For seniors, he says, “life is what you make it, dream big.”As far as the Menchville community goes, Surry says the heart of “Monarch Culture” is “the spirit of possibilities for our students and staff.”