PoliticsWilliam J. Ford

Ulysses Currie, ‘Dean of Senators,’ Laid to Rest

Gentle. Firm. Infectious smile. Racquetball phenom.

Those are just a few words family, friends and former colleagues used to describe the late Maryland state Sen. Ulysses Currie on Saturday during a funeral service attended by hundreds at Allen Chapel AME Church in southeast D.C.

Currie, 82, worked nearly 30 years in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system in Maryland as a teacher, principal and supervisor of the county’s Head Start program. He became affectionately known as “Dean of Senators” during his more than 30 years as a state lawmaker.

Members of Omega Psi Phi fraternity honor the late Sen. Ulysses Currie, a member of the organization's Gamma Pi chapter, during a memorial service for Currie at Allen Chapel AME Church in southeast D.C. on Jan. 11. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Members of Omega Psi Phi fraternity honor the late Sen. Ulysses Currie, a member of the organization’s Gamma Pi chapter, during a memorial service for Currie at Allen Chapel AME Church in southeast D.C. on Jan. 11. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Former state Sen. Gloria Lawlah, who represented southern Prince George’s, said the son of a North Carolina sharecropper chose a key person in his life.

“Thirty-five years ago, Ulysses Currie was a handsome, eligible bachelor…with lots of ladies in pursuit,” Lawlah said as laughter filled the church. “Ulysses Currie made a great decision. He proposed and married Shirley Gravely here at Allen Chapel.”

Some former Senate colleagues that included Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County), who knew Currie for more than 15 years, traveled outside the D.C. area to express their condolences.

“I will always remember that smile,” she said about Currie. “He was respectful. Always willing to listen. He was a genuine article.”

Currie, who died Dec. 27 at his home in Forestville, Maryland, instilled education as one of his main priorities.

In one of Maryland lawmakers’ final votes in 2018 before Currie retired, they chose to rename the state’s Head Start program the “Ulysses Currie Head Start Program.”

Currie ultimately turned to politics, which allowed him to become a mentor in Annapolis.

One of those mentees, Sen. Melony Griffith, replaced Currie to represent District 25 that includes parts of Upper Marlboro, Capitol Heights and District Heights.

Griffith, a former state delegate who became second-in-command Jan. 8 as Senate president pro tem, recalled when she and Currie ran against each other several years ago and learned about the power of family.

“The first thing that I learned is that you keep your family close,” said Griffith, of Upper Marlboro. “Sen. Currie and I haven’t always been on the same side of the ballot. I saw busloads of this family pour out to support Sen. Currie. It was a little scary, but I know it meant the world to him.”

Before Currie influenced others in Maryland, his life began in humbly on July 10, 1937, in Whiteville, North Carolina. He received a bachelor’s degree in social studies from University of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State College in 1959.

After serving from 1960-63 in the Army, he traveled to the D.C. area and later received a master’s degree in education from American University in Northwest in 1968. He also pursued doctoral studies in early childhood development at the University of Maryland in College Park.

In a nearly 30-year career in education, Currie worked as a teacher, principal and directed the Prince George’s Head Start program.

During his last several years in education, he became interested in politics and was elected as a delegate from 1987, serving two terms until 1995. During that time, he was appointed as majority whip.

He retired from the public school system in 1993 and two years later began his time in the Senate.

He announced his retirement in 2016 due to his health. However, he rescinded the resignation and served two more years until he decided to step down for good.

One of Currie’s longtime allies, Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-District 27), told the congregants Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ordered flags to fly at half-staff Sunday, Jan. 12 in honor of Currie.

Miller, who served as Senate president from 1987 until he turned the gavel over last week to Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), appointed Currie in 1994 to become the first Black to chair the Senate’s prominent Budget and Taxation Committee.

“It was difficult in a sense that we were both from Prince George’s,” said Miller, who represents portions of Prince George’s, Calvert and Charles counties. “People said, ‘You can’t do it.’ But Uly made it happen because of his reputation for truth and honesty and virtue. We’ve had the privilege and pleasure of walking through this world with state Sen. Ulysses S. Currie.”

Omega Man

Currie also received a 30-minute memorial service from his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. His fraternity brothers, who wore black suits, white gloves and purple ties, stood around the entire sanctuary. The ties represent part of the organization’s color.

An Omega shield sparkled near his casket partially covered with a Maryland state flag and a folded U.S. flag.

Eric Fields, a member of Currie’s Gamma Pi chapter of Prince George’s County, read Currie’s memorial that incorporates the group’s principles Currie followed: manhood, scholarship, perseverance and uplift. He mentioned Currie became initiated into the fraternity on June 10, 1992.

“Brother Ulysses Currie, Omega first. Omega last. Omega always,” he said.

Among the Omega fraternity members who participated in the ceremony included Del. Nick Charles (D-District 25) of Forestville; Prince George’s County Councilman Calvin Hawkins (D-At Large); and Bowie Mayor Tim Adams.

“As a member of Omega Psi Phi, he has lived the cardinal principle. It is not just about one thing. It is about the summation of his life,” Adams said. “He has given so much back to our community and he has inspired so many. We just hope to continue to tradition that he has taught us all and it is about perseverance, dedication and uplift for the community.”

In Currie’s last remarks on the Senate floor on April 9, 2018, he thanked his wife, staff and colleagues: “I also want to say thanks to you, Mr. President [Miller], and all of you in the Senate. Last, but certainly not least, I want to [thank] my … wonderful wife for her love and support.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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