Lamar Louise Curry taught U.S. history in Miami-Dade County schools for 35 years — and lived it for more than a century.
Born in Key West on Dec. 11, 1906, she moved with her parents to Miami in 1916, graduated from Miami Senior HIgh in 1923, then Florida Southern College in 1927. Taught in the county school system until 1962, all but three years at her alma mater.
She heard statesman William Jennings Bryan speak, saw her mother off to elegant tea parties at Henry Flagler’s grand Royal Palm hotel and met the teenage Charles Lindbergh who was learning to fix airplanes in Miami.
Educating was in her DNA, thanks to generations of Methodist ministers in her lineage, a grandfather who headed the University of Florida's Agricultural Experiment Station in Lake City, and an intellectually curious mother who held two 1920s-era patents on devices still in use: a sewing-machine motor “stop,’’ and the sleeve covering an automobile’s stick-shift base.
An astute observer of the South Florida real estate market, Miss Curry, as everyone called her, sold off her father’s vast holdings at propitious times, enabling a life of dignified luxury and quiet philanthropy.
She was the privileged only child of landholder Alfred Bates Curry, whose English forebears migrated to Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, and his wife, Stobo DePass Curry, whose Dutch ancestors settled colonial Virginia.
She died at her stately Coral Gables home on Dec. 3, eight days short of her 106th birthday.
She was, said longtime friend Audrey Ross, “a genteel Southern lady, the true ‘steel magnolia’ if there ever has been one. She lived her life very carefully, with few regrets.’’
She declined to marry, once telling Ross: “ ‘I never met a man who measured up to my father.’ But I’m sure she had a lot of suitors. She was a beautiful woman.’’
The Curry family’s legacy includes commercial developments, including Buttonwood Bay in Key Largo — on which Miss Curry imposed tight, conservation-minded deed restrictions — and Curry Hammock State Park in the Middle Keys.
But Miss Curry considered her greatest achievement to be the accomplishments of countless Miami High students whose intellects she prodded, including lawyers Robert Traurig and Donald Slesnick, the former Gables mayor.
“The main things I wanted to teach were how to study; to indoctrinate them in patriotism, loyalty, and understand that a good action would bring a good reaction, and likewise, a bad action a bad reaction,’’ she said in a 1986 University of Florida oral history. “I never promised them anything unless I could and did keep the promise.’’
“Nobody who came out of Miss Curry’s class could be accused of being historical illiterates,’’ said Bob Graham, former U.S. senator and Florida governor, one of many students who remained close to their teacher until her death.
“She expected you to know the date when the First World War ended, but was mainly concerned that you understood the rationale and major themes of American history,’’ Graham recalled. “She was a wonderful storyteller. She taught history as an ongoing series of stories about human beings, not just dry recitations of wars and other hallmarks of history courses.’’