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Celia V. Carr, educator who was first Black department head at Western High School, dies

OBIT: Celia V. Carr - Original Credit: Handout
OBIT: Celia V. Carr - Original Credit: Handout (Handout / HANDOUT)

Celia V. Carr, a career educator who was the first Black department chair at Western High School and later became a Methodist lay minister, died Jan. 14 of a cardiac arrest at her longtime Severna Park home. She was 82.

The former Celia Virginia Lofton, daughter of Arthur B. Lofton, a contractor and rental property owner, and his wife, Alberta Suggs Lofton, a homemaker, was born in Greenville, North Carolina, one of six children. She moved with her family in 1939 to a home in Northwest Baltimore when she was a 1-year-old.

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“Assistant principals are sometimes thought of being hard-asses, but not Celia,” said Robert A. Motley, who was a teacher at Atholton High School when Ms. Carr was assistant principal.

“She could talk to students and always supported me 100%. She was kind, caring, and dedicated to the students and the staff. She was well-respected by them,” said Mr. Motley, an Owings Mills resident, who is currently principal of Atholton.

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In a biographical profile, Ms. Carr’s children wrote, “although not formally educated, her parents instilled in each of their six children the importance and necessity of a good education. She was told that she could be a teacher, nurse, or secretary. Realizing she did not like the sight of blood, she set her sights on becoming a business college prep major at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore City.”

Growing up, Ms. Carr became a voracious reader and visited the library every week where she brought home armloads of books, which “allowed her to escape into another world,” the biography continues.

After graduating from Douglass in 1956, she began her college studies at what was then Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, in Hampton, Virginia, where she met and fell in love with a fellow student, Harold Carr Sr.

“Can you imagine, they were from the same Baltimore neighborhood and had to go to Hampton to meet one another,” Sheila Carr-Spence, one of Ms. Carr’s daughters, said in a telephone interview.

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They returned to Baltimore after she completed her freshman year and married in 1957. After having two children, Ms. Carr went to work as a stenographer in the office of the president of Morgan State University, and then left her position and enrolled at Morgan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1965 in business education. While at the university, she was an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Alpha Delta chapter.

Several years later, Ms. Carr enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, where she obtained a master’s degree in administration and supervision in 1969, and a second master’s degree in economics in 1987, also from Hopkins.

In 1965, she began teaching stenography and typing to students at Herring Run Junior High School and later joined the faculty of Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, where she remained until being reassigned to Western High School.

In 1972, she became the first Black person at Western to chair the business education department while at the same time teaching economics. She was then promoted to business education supervisor and took up her new position at the Baltimore City Public Schools’ district office.

Ms. Carr was hired by the Howard County Public School System in 1987 as supervisor of business education and home economics, while also supervising several programs at the Howard County Vocational-Technical School. When the county ended their business education programs and focused more on college preparatory programs, she was named vice principal at Atholton High School, where in 1998 she initiated Parent Patrol, a program where parent volunteers armed with walkie talkies positioned themselves throughout the school to monitor the hallways.

“High school is different from when today’s parent was in school,” Ms. Carr told The Baltimore Sun in a 2000 interview. “It gives parents an idea of what their child goes through each day. They see what the kids wear and how they act and interact with each other.”

Ms. Carr’s children said, “the students loved her disposition, but feared her repercussions. When they saw Ms. Carr, they immediately displayed their best behavior.”

Mr. Motley said Ms. Carr took him under her wing when she found out he wanted to be an administrator.

“She told me, ‘Here’s what you have to do,’ and she guided me,” Mr. Motley said. “It’s funny, I’m now the principal where she used to teach and was assistant principal. She had great relationships and was a great assistant principal, and that says a lot because she set the tone.”

He added: “In my 25 years in education, the five years I was a teacher at Atholton, I compare that to every situation, and she was the best part of that experience.”

Ms. Carr was an avid supporter of the school’s athletic programs and would attend games with other administrators, and in doing so, developed a profound love for football.

A devout Christian throughout her life, she was a former member of Christian Memorial Church, where she sang in the choir, taught Sunday school and was its superintendent. She also served as the church’s choir director.

In 1983, she and her husband founded Mount Sinai Christian Church, where he was its pastor and she was a deaconess, a lay speaker and Bible study teacher. And because she was the wife of a minister, she became an active member of the Greater Baltimore Ministers’ Wives and Ministers’ Widows Fellowship, where she had chaired its scholarship and education committee, and helped raise money for scholarships to deserving high school students who had excelled in school.

“The primary focus was education, so she was a frequent anonymous scholarship donor to students who were active at church and to the most unlikely student,” her children said. “Every student that we provided scholarships for graduated from college, and she continued this tradition after she retired from Howard County in 2009.”

Ms. Carr rose through the ranks and became the organization’s president, and during one of its conferences, was named Queen of the Conference in recognition for her work on behalf of the minsters’ wives.

She later joined John Wesley United Methodist Church in Glen Burnie. Desiring to become a minister, she submitted her lay minister application to the board of ministers of the United Methodist Church, from which she graduated, and became a certified lay minister. This allowed her to perform church services in the absence of the minister, officiate at weddings and assist in other ministerial duties.

In recent years, she had been a member of Hall United Methodist Church in Glen Burnie.

Well-tailored, Ms. Carr was known for her stylish millinery and her love of butterfly pins, which she wore with her outfits.

She enjoyed cooking and presiding over gatherings for family and friends. “She was gracious, well-spoken, intellectual and very seldom lost her temper,” her children said.

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She had been an active member of the National Business Education Association and was elected the organization’s first Black national officer. She was also an active AKA member of Epsilon Omega chapter, and was a charter member of the Rho Xi Omega chapter that is located in Baltimore.

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Her husband died in 2017.

A celebration-of-life service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, family only, at the Howell Funeral Home, 10220 Guilford Road, Jessup. A public viewing will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday. Masks must be worn and social distancing observed.

In addition to Ms. Carr-Spence, Ms. Carr is survived by a son, Harold Carr Jr. of Forest Park; another daughter, Arkaime Kess of Severna Park; three brothers, James Lofton of Nottingham and Alton Ray Lofton Sr. and Eric Wayne Lofton, both of Randallstown; a sister, Shirlene Snowden of Greenspring Valley; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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