The head of one of Maryland's most powerful Senate committees got where he is only by struggling past poverty, hard labor and racism.
The hard-core Democrat from Prince George's County has earned the esteem of his colleagues - on both sides of the aisle. Almost everyone seems shaken that a shadow is hovering over a man who otherwise seems nothing less than upright.
"Uly is one of the people least likely in the legislature to have something like this happen," said former Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who led the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee before Currie and recommended him as her successor.
"It just boggles the mind. When I found out, I just said, 'Who? It's not possible.' That's not the Uly Currie I know."
Details of the investigation are spare. FBI agents visited Currie's District Heights home on Thursday after also serving a search warrant at Shoppers Food & Pharmacy's corporate headquarters in Lanham. Currie is an "outside consultant" for Shoppers Food, according to the company.
Currie was raised in poverty in rural North Carolina. Because his mother died when he was 18 months old, his father, a sharecropper, raised him. Until he was a teenager, he lived without running water or electricity.
Like many children who grew up in farm communities, the young Currie often missed classes in the one-room building that was his school to work the fields.
The money he saved from farming and working summers on a railroad - $120 - covered his enrollment fees and his first quarter at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State College. He graduated from A&T; in 1959 with a degree in social studies.
As a black man in the segregated South, he lived racism's realities, carefully avoiding the white-only bathroom, finding his seat at the back of the bus.
Pursuit of education
When he moved north to Havre de Grace to stay with his aunt, Odessa Phillips, she urged him to pursue a career in education - which he eventually did. Now retired, Currie worked as a principal at several Prince George's County schools.
"My whole life has been as much of a struggle for an education as anything," Currie told The Sun last year. "I still feel that's the gap. Education. Trying to close the gap and catch up."
Not long after moving to Maryland, he enlisted in the Army and was stationed at Fort Dix, N.J., and later in Germany.
He eventually earned a master's degree in education from American University in 1968.
Currie is married to the Rev. Shirley Gravely Currie and has two children and two grandchildren.
Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, who grew up in North Carolina too, understands Currie's Southern roots. The two consider themselves friends.
The Montgomery County Democrat says she has nothing but awe for Currie's success story.
"He has worked himself up and he's a role model for so many people," she said. "I've never known him to be anything other than a really incredible, very smart person, someone who's always looking out for people who need help."
She said she turned to Currie recently for advice in helping a constituent, who was trying to raise himself out of poverty.
She thinks his skills as an educator have served him well in politics, particularly in leading his committee. Though that role leaves Currie torn between fellow senators - all demanding money for their favorite projects - she thinks he's both practical and diplomatic.
"He would never promise anything," she said. "He'd just say we'll see what we can do."
Currie has been a member of the Senate since January 1995, and chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee since 2002.
He served in the House of Delegates from January 1987 until he was elected to the Senate.
He has expressed interest in replacing Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, should the long-serving leader retire.
Miller said Currie's legislative priorities, not surprisingly, have been "education, education and more education." He credited Currie with leading a fight to ensure the General Assembly fulfills its billion-dollar-plus education funding mandate.
"He's a very hardworking, decent human being," Miller said. "I've never heard a person say a bad word or harsh thing about him."
J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican and a member of Currie's committee, said he always considered Currie to be a man of integrity, someone who masterfully leads his influential committee with fairness and good will.
Sense of right, wrong
Patrick J. Hogan, who served as vice chairman of the Senate's budget committee from 2003 to 2007 and is now the chief lobbyist for the University of Maryland system, also appreciated Currie's even hand and effort to engage the 13 diverse members.
"He seems to be a religious man, married to a minister, and seems to have a sense of right and wrong," Stoltzfus said.
Though Stoltzfus has found Currie hard to get to know personally, he recalls the few "heart-to-heart" conversations the two have shared, talks that forged his high regard for his colleague.
"I respect from where he's come," Stoltzfus said. "My heart is very touched by that and I respect his character that I think was meshed in that era."
Stoltzfus said he has also found Currie to be "extremely political," a "very strong Democrat" who's "very pro-black issues, but in a careful way."
Even so, Cecilia Januszkiewicz, who served as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s secretary of the Department of Budget and Management from June 2005 to January 2007, said Currie didn't let the fact that she represented a Republican administration obstruct their working relationship.
"He was not so partisan as to not engage in dialogue or to oppose things just because they weren't proposed by his own party," Januszkiewicz said. "I think he dealt with me openly and honestly."
She also appreciated that unlike some politicians who come to seats of power, Currie didn't abuse his.
"He hasn't let power go to his head," she said. "He was willing to listen to people [who] came before him, and he was open to changing his mind.
"Sometimes people who are in those positions forget that they serve the people, and I don't think that he did."
Sun reporters Bradley Olson and Gadi Dechter contributed to this article.
Age: : 70
Occupation:: Retired educator
Political: : Prince George's County Democrat, Member of the Maryland Senate since 1995. Member of the House of Delegates from 1987 to 1995
Chairman of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee since 2002
Born:: Whiteville, N.C.
Education:: Bachelor's degree in social studies and history from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, 1959. Master's degree in education from the American University, 1968
Personal:: Married, with two sons