Former Maryland state Sen. Ulysses Currie, who won praise for his work in education and in the General Assembly, died Friday at his home in Forestville, according to a family statement. He was 84.
Currie served in state politics, representing Prince George’s County, from 1987 until his term expired Jan. 9 this year.
The son of sharecropper and a former educator in the county for more than 30 years, Currie, a Democrat, became a majority whip in the House of Delegates and made history in Annapolis as the first Black lawmaker to chair the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee.
He received praise from former colleagues such as Del. Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro for helping them understand state politics and life.
“He was one of the reasons why I became a delegate and put me on his ticket,” said Barnes, who chairs the state’s Maryland Black Caucus. “Through that time frame, he did a lot for me and we became friends. We would talk about a whole host of things. He will be sorely missed. We as a community, need to recognize the good that he did and find a way to honor him.”
Several people posted heartfelt messages of condolences on social media about Currie, including those who worked with him in the education field.
“There are a handful of people I credit for shaping and molding me into the person and servant that I am today — Senator Ulysses Currie will always be at the top of that list,” said Prince George’s County school board member K. Alexander Wallace. “There are times where I sit at the board of education dais and hear you whisper words of wisdom before I vote. Then there are the times when I recall you telling me how ‘the juice was not worth the squeeze’ on matters that, at the time, I thought were too big to pass up.”
Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), elected last year in the Senate after 10 years as a state delegate, worked with Currie in his final year when his wife, Shirley Gravely-Currie, accompanied her husband in his last session in Annapolis.
“Sen. Currie will always be remembered as a giant in Maryland politics,” Washington tweeted. “He garnered the respect of delegates and senators alike, who were captivated by his hearty personality, admired his resilient character, and were guided by his expert leadership.”
Even with all the accolades, Currie faced a federal indictment in 2010 on alleged bribery and other charges as a paid consultant for Shoppers Food Warehouse, according to a FBI release. However, a jury acquitted Currie in 2011.
Currie, reelected for two four-year terms in the House of Delegates and another six terms in the Senate, was born in 1935 in Whiteville, North Carolina, according to a state biography. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social studies from University of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State College in 1959.
After Currie served from 1960-63 in the Army, he received a master’s degree in education from American University in northwest D.C. in 1968.
He served a delegate from 1987 to 1995, included an appointment as majority whip.
After serving in the Senate beginning in 1995, he announced his retirement in 2016 due to health issues. However, he rescinded the resignation and served two more years.
Sen. Melony Griffith (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro now represents Currie’s district which includes Capitol Heights, District Heights and portions of Upper Marlboro.
Before and during his time in state politics, Currie worked as a teacher, former principal and head of the Prince George’s Head Start program. Lawmakers agreed last year to rename the state’s Head Start program as the Ulysses Currie Head Start Program.
“Senator Currie [was] known as a mentor and selfless public servant and as a fierce advocate for education, including expanding access to Head Start, which his colleagues named after him in 2018,” the family said in a statement. “He leaves behind a legacy of service and leadership which will be missed by all who knew and loved him.”
Besides his wife, Currie is survived by his two sons, Michael and Aris Currie, and two grandchildren.