Dowell: Hawkins left education legacy

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Another great LaGrange educator has died. Her name is Mrs. Elnora Hawkins. Mrs. Hawkins lived to be more than 100 years old. She was predeceased by her husband, Mr. J.H. Hawkins, who was also a great educator, who served as my elementary and high school principal.

I don’t know a lot about football but I know her husband in his younger days could’ve been mistaken for an NFL player. I have fond memories of her husband who was a very serious disciplinarian. Back then, even minor offenses committed by students resulted in a trip to the principal’s office. Corporal punishment was legal and even encouraged by parents. Very few male students avoided Mr. Hawkins’ paddling for being disrespectful to teachers.

Before finishing elementary school, I too, was introduced to the famous “paddle.” It was a paddling I will never forget – a disciplining I deserved, I might add. It was during my sixth-grade year, a time when hormones began to rage in males and females. My buddy and I had this brilliant idea that we would put mirrors on our shoes and look under the dress of the class tomboy. I don’t remember this being my idea – the plan went horribly wrong. The tomboy caught us in the act, in the school cafeteria and single-handedly beat the two of us in front of the entire student body before being stopped by Mr. Hawkins. We were immediately taken to the office thinking, “the tomboy just beat us.” Already suffering from having been beaten by a girl, I assumed that Mr. Hawkins would go easy on us. Not true. When my turn came to face the paddle, I was petrified. I discovered that Mr. Hawkins was probably also a magician. I truly thought that he was using several hands to beat us! The horrible thing about it, however, is that when I got home I received another beating from our father.

Students did not hold a grudge against teachers or principals and want to kill them when I was growing up as a child. We knew that they had our best interests at heart. Ellsworth, Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins’ only child, did not attend school for any extended period where his father was a principal. His father probably knew that retribution could be taken out on his son. You know what? Retribution in those days would’ve been a simple fistfight that would not have resulted in serious injuries.

Ms. Hawkins had an honor system that he used primarily with male students. If a male student behaved and maintained good grades, he, along with another student, would be selected for a specified period of time, to take the money collected from the cafeteria to the local bank for deposit. I was probably around 13 years old. This would be totally illegal today, not to mention dangerous.

There were some kids in high school, however, that probably were dangerous. I will never forget in my ninth-grade year being outside watching one of my friends throw rocks – just being mischievous. One of the rocks landed on a student with a bald head. Students who wore their hair bald when I was in high school normally had no choice in the matter. This was the dreaded haircut they received after doing time in a youth reformatory. I was right. The rocks created three large knots on a recently released student’s head.

I could not stop laughing, but I should have – he though I threw the rock!

Before I realized it, I had been picked up and thrown head first into a very tall hedge bush. Thinking that he would be satisfied, he continued to punch me through the shrubbery. The knots on his head, I believed, had caused him to go mad. Finally, my brother intervened and saved the day. My brother got the best of him and would have continued had it not been for the intervention of Mr. Hawkins.

Mr. Hawkins didn’t beat us that day – he merely suspended us from school for a week. The knot on the student’s head was suddenly not funny anymore. We ultimately became friends.

Although we were not perfect, the Hawkins of Lagrange were mentors to students who later became future lawyers, doctors, judges, legislators, and even writers. May they rest in peace.

Dr. Glenn Dowell is an author and columnist who currently lives in. He has been a guest speaker on major college campuses, including having appeared on TV programs such as the Oprah Winfrey Show. He may be reached at