Harrison County

Educator Dawson Curtis planted seeds of education in his students

Courtesy Curtis Family 
 Shirley and Dawson Curtis.
Courtesy Curtis Family Shirley and Dawson Curtis.

His first name last name and last name first name sometimes confused people, but Dawson Curtis just smiled and answered to whatever he was called.

"We laughed because we'd always get mail from the same places to Dawson Curtis and Curtis Dawson," said his wife, Shirley Curtis.

Dawson Curtis, a longtime educator, died May 1 surrounded by his family. He was 87.

He was already in college at Southern Miss when he took time off to join the Marines and serve his country in Korea. When he came home, he resumed his classes and baseball career.

It was during a baseball game in Stonewall that some of his friends introduced him to his future bride. They married in 1955, less than a year after he caught her eye.

"He was just a fine, handsome man and a good person. I just fell in love with him," she said.

A life spent teaching

Curtis spent 45 years educating the children of Mississippi. He worked in school districts across the state before settling in Gulfport as assistant superintendent of Harrison County Schools in 1972. He served as principal at the high school for a short time, then found his permanent niche as principal at Lizana Elementary in 1979.

He was a tough disciplinarian, but he showed compassion as well.

"He never disciplined a child that at the end of the day he didn't go back to him and let him know everything was OK," Curtis said. "He would always show love and concern. "

In his 21 years there, he used his green thumb to beautify the campus, while sowing integrity into the students who passed through his halls. "Integrity and commitment was everything," she said. "He believed a person should do and mean what they say."

A plaque was placed on the outside wall of the school upon his retirement. It says "In this soil and in the minds of children he has planted many seeds."

Family a priority

He tried to do that with his own three children and later on, his seven grandchildren.

He raised his kids with a Bible and a belt, teaching them honesty, integrity and the value of hard work. Both sons followed him into education careers, while his daughter became a lawyer.

Steve Curtis, a former assistant coach for women's hoops at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Nebraska, said his father taught him and his siblings to be the best at whatever they chose to do.

"Do it right, don't take any shortcuts, stand up for what you believe in," the younger Curtis said. "You might lose a game but you can't lose your integrity. You win games, and lose games, but you don't want to lose your reputation. At the end of the day, just make sure you're proud of what you've done."

The world revolved around his grandchildren when they came to visit.

Because they were scattered around the country, he'd get them together during summers and stage backyard Olympics, complete with unusual games and prizes.

They'd compete in contests such as watermelon seed spitting, egg tossing, sack racing and hula hooping, Shirley Curtis said. "The kids would play and we would play. They had a blast," she said.

He also enjoyed taking them crabbing off the piers in Long Beach and Gulfport and they all loved their Papaw's fried catfish and hush puppies.

Steve Curtis never saw his dad with a recipe, just a lot of this and that.

"He'd catch them in the morning and cook them at night and they were fantastic," he said.

Proud Marine

The proud Marine's favorite holiday was the Fourth of July, and he loved packing the family up to head to the beach for fireworks. At Memorial Day and Veterans Day, he'd take the grandkids with him to put flags out at the National Cemetery. He also taught them flag etiquette.

He challenged his children and his grandchildren to do the best they could and if they started something, to finish it.

He wore many hats at Bel-Aire Baptist, where he attended faithfully for 44 years. He taught vacation bible school, coached teams, planned outings and served as a deacon. He even started a Rook Club for seniors there, so he could share his favorite card game with others.

"He loved God and he loved his family," Shirley Curtis said. "Our house was filled with unconditional love and laughter. He never met a stranger and those who met him never forgot him."

Dawson Curtis was a member of Orange Grove Masonic Lodge #635, Harmony Chapter #51 Order of the Eastern Star and Second Marine Division Association.

A memorial service for Curtis will be held Saturday, May 14, at 11 a.m. at Bel-Aire Baptist Church, 15080 Dedeaux Road in Gulfport. Family visitation is 10-11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to Bel-Aire Baptist Church Building Fund or through Water for Life at lifetoday.org to build a water well in a third world country in honor of Curtis.

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