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I remember Mr. Dawson

February 28, 2012

Today is the Michigan primary, and much of the nation will be focused on this next step in the increasingly contentious GOP presidential fight.

That of course is just one of the big news stories of the day I am sure people in my hometown of Iowa Park, Texas, are talking about.

But they aren’t spending much time on that discussion because there is bigger news today:  Mr. Dawson died.

Bob Dawson was 85 years old, and he was the retired principal of the high school. He served there more than three decades. Generations have known him as “Uncle Bob,” and it wasn’t in a mean way. About a year ago, when I ran into him down the street from my mother’s house, he recalled my being a part of the Class of 1981 and remembered my sister from the Class of 1965.

I think that must be why so many people who have been gone from our small, rural farming community for decades are all over the social networks today talking about Uncle Bob. I am just as sure that similar conversations are going on in both pizza joints and other notable town hangouts.

There has always been a level of love and reverence for Mr. Dawson that strikes me as being unusual for high school principals. But Mr. Dawson was an unusual man. Just the sight of him could make you straighten up. You wanted to give him a good report, whether you encountered him in the hallway at school or on the street 30 years later.

For one thing, he had the most phony baloney gruff exterior I have ever seen.  He could growl at you, but you never really bought it. For example, early on his career, he took to calling the kids “alley rats.” He generally started off morning announcements by saying, “All right all you alley rats …” (If he was really feeling cantankerous that day, he would begin in alternative fashion by saying “All right scholars … ) When Bob Dawson called you an alley rat, you knew that he cared about you. Somehow, it just shined through. Soon, everybody wanted to be an alley rat. And, as far as I know, everyone was. It was like a status symbol, and to Bob Dawson, every kid had status.

He loved to interact with everyone. He would walk down to the choir room and ask the choir to sing “Blue Bayou.”  He greeted you by name in the hall, inquired about your schoolwork, your life and your family. Years later, he could still call you by name and remember your interests. He listened. He remembered. He genuinely cared.

He wore a football jersey like the team on game days (No. 00), and he had his own special names for students in particular programs. Band kids were “horn blowers.” FFA kids, of which there were many, were generally called “hog sloppers.”  In the morning announcements, for example, he might say, “All right, all you hog sloppers need to come up to the main building for the pep rally this afternoon.”

Believe it or not, Mr. Dawson ran a tight ship. He believed in discipline. But at the same time, there was a level of mischievousness that would come to the surface frequently. You realized he had some appreciation for what it was like to be a kid, and that he wasn’t quite ready to relinquish his own childlike qualities.

One year I participated in a UIL journalism contest over a weekend. I received an award but there was some type of confusion among the judges that had to be straightened out. It remained unclear on Monday morning whether it was my entry or someone else’s which placed in the competition. I remember trying to explain this confusing situation to Mr. Dawson. I was horrified when, during the announcements, he read the results and then finished by saying, “Oh and Matt Curry also received an award but he doesn’t know what it was.”

I remember walking out of class after that period and spotting him across the hall with a big smile on his face. I couldn’t get upset with him.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Laura permalink
    February 28, 2012 9:05 pm

    Nice tribute, Matt! Don’t you wish all of us could have at least one “Mr.Dawson” in our lives?

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