Tom Coursey was project manager for construction of Miami International Airport’s terminal building on Le Jeune Road and the former Miami Herald building along Biscayne Bay soon after taking a job with Newberg Construction Co. in 1956.
“He was always very proud of those two projects and never ceased to mention this throughout the rest of his life and career,” said his daughter, Deborah Hibbitt.
So why did Coursey, a field engineer on two prominent Miami construction sites, take a 35 percent pay cut in 1961 to leave architectural engineering for a career in education?
For the Decatur, Mississippi-born Coursey, who died July 25 at 87 of complications from vascular dementia, it was all about making connections — the human kind rather than cement to steel.
“Although I liked working outside in construction, what I really wanted to do was work with kids, talking to them, counseling them and helping them find out what they wanted to do with their lives,” Coursey told the Miami Herald in a May 1972 feature.
The switch required adjustments but he could tap some of skills. He had earned a degree in architectural engineering from Clemson University, where he had a football scholarship. He completed his military tour of duty at Hahn Air Force Base in Germany in 1956 and had promised his wife, Jeannie, a life near the ocean and “some warm Florida sunshine,” their daughter recalls.
Coursey, who was simultaneously building his family home in Miami Springs while serving in the Reserves as commander of the 90th Aerial Port Squadron at Homestead Air Force Base, took an assistant football coaching job at Hialeah High School and taught a drafting class. For the next five years, Coursey took education classes at the University of Miami, Barry University and Florida Atlantic University. He earned his master’s in education over two summers at Clemson.
My dad was kind and generous, loved to play practical jokes and was a chivalrous gentleman until the day he died. He believed in the necessity of education and the importance of tolerance for all.
Deborah Hibbitt on her father, Tom Coursey.
He became assistant principal at Miami Central Senior High and was appointed director and principal of Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center, a position he held for 20 years from 1970 to 1991. There, he directed 70 fields of study in vocational education.
In 1985, he invested $1 to purchase an old county bus he picked from a junkyard full of retired buses. The renovated bus, equipped with booths that demonstrated careers like electronics and cosmetology, chugged along to high schools and shopping centers to recruit students for Lindsey Hopkins.
One task especially appealed to Coursey: He oversaw a 14-chair dental clinic at Lindsey Hopkins that drew 250 Miami-Dade dentists who gave up one day a month from their private practices to treat needy patients. In 1988, the dentists provided $500,000 worth of root canals, cleanings, dentures and other procedures.
“It’s a buck well invested for the county. It’s probably one of the best providers of indigent care this county has,” Coursey told the Herald in 1989 of Miami-Dade Commission’s investment of $100,000 for supplies and Miami-Dade County Public School’s contribution in space and funding.
“He was especially proud of the dental clinic that he ran at Lindsey, bringing in local dentists willing to volunteer their time to treat indigent and less fortunate people in the Miami area,” his daughter said.
Coursey also kept alive his love for the outdoors. “A recap of his life would have to include his love of golf and his entrance into the Hole in One Club at the Doral Golf Course on May 7, 1997,” Hibbitt said.
In addition to his daughter, Coursey is survived by son Charles Coursey and grandchildren Barrett Thomas, Catherine and Andrew Hibbitt. A memorial service will be at 4 p.m. Sept. 10 at Poinciana United Methodist Church, 300 N. Royal Poinciana Blvd., Miami Springs. Donations in Coursey’s name can be made to the Poinciana United Methodist Church Youth Group.