Dr. John C. Albohm, 67, a tall, gravely voiced school administrator who led the sweeping voluntary desegregation of Alexandria's public schools during the early 1970s, died yesterday in a hospital in Orlando,Fla., after a heart attack.
Dr. Albohm retired to Florida in 1977 after serving 14 years as superintendent of Alexandria schools.
He had open heart surgery in Orlando in early February, and appeared to be recovering until he had a massive heart attack yesterday.
When he came to Alexandria from York, Pa., in 1963, the city's schools were almost completely segregated.
A few years later Dr. Albohm put through a plan for neighborhood school zones. It was followed in 1971 by a complete reorganization of Alexandria's junior and senior high schools, giving each about the the same racial balance.
In 1973, on Dr. Albonhm's recommendation, the Alexandria school board adopted a city-wide busing plan for elementary schools.
Dr. Albohm said later that he pushed for the desegregation plans because he wanted to avoid a court order, such as the one that forced desegregation in Prince George's County, and also because he felt desegregation was morally right.
"I was politically and philosphically opposed to masive resistance (Virginia's early response to school desegregation)," Dr. Albohm declared in an interview in 1977. "I knew Alexandria was a wide-ranging community, and I felt it would respond to social change in an orderly manner."
Even though the desegregation move attracted strong opposition and at first there were some difficulties inside desegregated schools, the situation calmed rapidly. Dr. Albohm contended that the academic quality of Alexandria schools had improved -- for both blacks and whites -- after desegregation.
The number of white children attending Alexandria schools fell by half from 1970 to 1976, but the white exodus slowed considerably after that. For the past four years the racial balance in the school system has been almost unchanged at 47 percent black, 44 percent white, and 9 percent Asian and Hispanic.
Alexandria City Councilman Carlyle C. Ring Jr., who served on the school board for eight years, praised Dr. Albohm yesterday for having "the wisdom and the courage to proceed with what had to be done without court intervention. Many school systems that went through desegregation weren't able to maintain quality, discipline or community support . . . In Alexandria Albohm was able to pull it off."
Ring added that for many years Dr. Albohm was "the best politician in town."
"He could do the opposite of what you wanted," Ring continued, "and he would pat you on the back and tell you how good you were, and make you feel good while losing."
During the height of the desegregation controversy, a swastika was painted on Dr. Albohm's front door, and he was deluged with abusive calls after the American Nazi Party printed his home telephone number in their newspaper.
Dr. Albohm also was criticized by a black member of the Alexandria City Council, who charged that he look too harsh an approach in disciplining black students.
Dr. Albohm, who had a booming voice and the knack for remembering the names of hundreds of parents and teachers, seemed unperturbed by cross-fire.
"I helped bring people together," he declared. "Of course, there are some people who say, 'The son of a b---- divided people.' But they're a small number."
The son of a Lutheran minister, Dr. Albohm was born and raised in Cumberland, Md., then moved to New York City. He graduated from public high school in the Bronx, and received his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees from New York University.
He taught history and Latin in high schools in northern New Jersey before becoming a school administrator. He was a school superintendent for 36 years -- seven in Ridgefield, N.J., seven in New London, Conn., eight in York, Pa., and 14 in Alexandria.
After he retired, Dr. Albohm moved to Jacksonville, Fla., where he did some consulting and college lecturing. He moved to Orlando in February. d
Surviving are his wife, Shirley Morris Albohm, of Orlando; a son, John, of Jamestown, N.D.; a daughter, Karen Ritter, of Tenathy, N.J., and his mother, Rose, of Brooklyn, N.Y.