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Quentin R. Lawson, a former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the National Alliance of Black School Educators, died Monday.
Quentin R. Lawson, a former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the National Alliance of Black School Educators, died Monday. (HANDOUT)

Quentin R. Lawson, an education adviser to Mayor William Donald Schaefer who later became executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the National Alliance of Black School Educators, died Monday at his Windsor Mills home of complications from prostate cancer.

He was 83.

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"'Always keep the kids first' — that was his message, and his trajectory for children of color was always education," said Baltimore schools CEO Gregory E. Thornton. "He was about advocacy for kids and was talking about equity before it was popular.

"He wanted to improve the quality of life for children, and he always wore his profession proudly on his lapel," Dr. Thornton said. "You never could say no to Quentin because you knew he was so committed."

"Quentin dedicated his life to uplifting black children not just in Baltimore, but in every part of this country," Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said in a statement. "There are millions of children whose lives are better off thanks to him and his commitment to equity in education. I know that Baltimore will miss him, Maryland will miss him, and our entire country will miss him."

The son of a Harrison Lawson, a coal miner, and Catherine Scott-Lawson, a homemaker, Quentin Roosevelt Lawson was the sixth of seven children. He born in Fayetteville, W.Va., where he attended public schools.

In 1953, he received a bachelor's degree in biology from West Virginia State College, an African-American land grant college in Charleston.

Mr. Lawson later obtained a master's degree in science education from Morgan State University, and a second master's in education supervision and administration from the University of Maryland, College Park.

He began his teaching career in Virginia and, in 1955, met and fell in love with Louise Betts, who later became a Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. clerical worker.

They married in 1956 and moved to Baltimore, where he began teaching science in city public schools.

He was named science department head at Rock Glen Middle School, then assistant principal at Lombard Middle School. In 1968, he was promoted to assistant director of the city schools' Project Mission, where he coordinated an urban teacher training program.

From 1969 to 1971, he was director of Keeping All Pupils in School (KAPS), a dropout prevention program, and developed a $5 million program to identify and implement methods to keep students in school.

Mr. Schaefer named Mr. Lawson his education adviser in 1971. He assisted in the development and interpretation of local school policy for public officials and forged links between school officials, the business community and government leaders.

In 1975, Mr. Schaefer appointed him human development director, a post in which he administered a comprehensive human services program.

Mr. Lawson supervised offices and services including aging, employment, health and hospitals, public housing, juvenile and criminal justice, library services, recreation, public safety and public schools.

When Mr. Lawson left the job in 1981, Mr. Schaefer told The Baltimore Sun that the departure was one of his "most serious losses."

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Mr. Lawson was a founder in 1983 of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators in Washington, whose mission was to develop the skills of African-American managers in government and to attract blacks to public management at the executive level. He later served as the organization's vice president and executive director.

During his nine-year tenure, Mr. Lawson expanded the organization from its inception to more than 3,000 members and organized an annual conference that attracted 1,200 professionals. He also developed a mentoring program.

He also established the Executive Leadership Institute, with a focus on aspiring city managers, and the Leadership Institute for Small Municipalities.

After leaving the forum in 1992, he served three years as executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Inc., also in Washington. The nationally recognized nonprofit public policy, research and educational organization was developed to support the educational, political and economic empowerment of African-Americans.

Mr. Lawson's responsibilities were numerous, including forging partnerships among caucus members, academic and research institutions, public policy organizations and public officials from all levels of government.

"The caucus doesn't always vote together and there is no reason why it should vote as a bloc on every issue," Mr. Lawson told The Sun in 1992. "But there are some issues that are of particular interest to black Americans. If the caucus does not coalesce around those issues to blacks, no one else will."

In 1996, he was named executive director of the National Alliance of Black School Educators. As chief officer of the group — the largest network of African-American educators in the country — he oversaw an annual budget of $25 million and developed professional research and policy programs.

"He put NABSE on the map and legislatively took it to another level, and now they know in Washington what the organization is all about," said Marietta A. English, current president of the organization and president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

"Quentin was an extremely good educator, and he increased the level of superintendents who work with the organization," said Ms. English. "He was an all-around great person for the organization and was always personable and pleasant."

"Quentin was a very quiet and thoughtful kind of guy. He was not an assuming person and was a very good listener," said Dr. Thornton. "He would probe and ask me questions. He made you self-reflect. He'd bring you in."

Mr. Lawson retired in 2012.

He was an avid gardener and every spring planted tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, onions, cantaloupe and string beans. With the coming of fall, he planted turnips. He enjoyed giving his garden's bounty away to family, friends and neighbors.

He was a fancier of golden retrievers, and collected coffee mugs and calendars featuring their image.

When he purchased a four-door, sand-colored Graham-Paige touring car with spoked wheels that dated to the late 1920s, he built a garage at his home in order to carry out the restoration of the classic vehicle.

"It took about four years because he'd work on it in his spare time," said his daughter, Dr. Rosilend Lawson, a lawyer and veterinarian who lives in Woodstock. "He used to enjoy driving it in parades."

Mr. Lawson was a longtime member of New Psalmist Baptist Church, 6020 Marina Drive, Baltimore, where funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

In addition to his wife of 59 years and daughter, he is survived by a son, Quentin Roosevelt Lawson II of Windsor Mill; a brother, Reginald Tucker of Pittsburgh; a sister, Joy Lipscomb of Baltimore; and a granddaughter.

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