Robert C. (Bob) Curlee passed this life on Tuesday morning, October 29, 2019, at the age of 91. Bob was born in Woodbury, Tennessee on April 23, 1928, the 13th child of Jimmie White (Jamerson) and Ephraim Millard Curlee. It was in Woodbury that he met and wooed Janie Lois Simpson. They were married on May 2, 1952.
Bob began his teaching career in Woodbury but was recruited to Tullahoma High School in 1957 to teach at the new "Million Dollar" high school. Whatever the principal asked he did without question with no increase in pay.... take up tickets at ballgames or direct the school play or take seniors on their annual senior trip. He worked hard to be the very best teacher he could be so his students could be the very best students they could be. Bob worked for over 60 years and did not miss a single day because of illness. Did he feel well enough to go to school some days? Of course not. But that's just how he was. There was no such thing as "personal days" during this time, or, if there was, he never took one.
Bob was an extraordinarily-gifted teacher. His specialty was math, geometry and algebra, although he taught bookkeeping and typing in summer school. Supporting a family on a meager teacher's salary was tough, and Bob supplemented his income by working nights and summers as a typesetter at The Tullahoma News, and typed many a thesis and dissertation for UTSI students.
He would spend hours preparing for his classes even though he knew the subject matter like the back of his hand. He loved his students and his students knew that. Students would stop by his house in the evenings to be tutored, and young teachers would come to the house in the evenings to be mentored by Bob and enjoy a hot cup of coffee and piece of pie made by Lois. Although he was a math teacher, he was a teacher's teacher and could have taught English or any other subject. We understand a "Best Teacher" award was given at THS each year (chosen by the teachers) and Bob earned this recognition many times.
It was during his tenure as a math teacher that THS students began to excel in math in regional and state competitions (we have been told largely because of his efforts). He would tutor his brightest math students for hours after school, preparing them for the competition, similar to an athletic coach. The tradition of excellence in math at THS continues to this day, which many believe was built on the foundation started by Bob in the late 1950s. Over the years, as he would see the pictures in the local newspaper of the THS students who performed so well at the state level, he was very proud. He inspired and enriched the lives of many students and teachers through his love of math.
It's not unusual for family members to hear comments like "he was my best teacher ever", "I became a math teacher because of your dad", "your dad was a big influence on my life", or "your dad kept me out of trouble". One former student said he even made geometry fun, which was a hard thing to do. After sharing these comments with him he would invariably say, "Oh, I remember him (or her). He/she graduated in 1963.... really good student.....sat in the fourth row behind Doris."
Bob could sense when a student needed a challenge or motivation. He always had an eye out for the "underdog". Although he taught math, he would often read a short story or poem with a not-so-hidden lesson to the class. Countless former students have mentioned they still remember a certain poem or story he read to them. He would often tell funny stories to put their minds at ease before a test. His wit and story-telling skills were unsurpassed.
Recently, when asked how he wanted to be remembered and what could be done to help preserve his name as one of the very best, dedicated and caring teachers at THS, he thought for a minute and said he would like to have a small plaque with his name on it above the door of one of the math classrooms at THS to encourage the current teachers. The plan is to honor this request.
He loved all things UT Vols, from the football team to the basketball and baseball teams (especially the Lady Vols). The Vols made him really happy with last weekend's win over South Carolina. He also was a great fan of the Atlanta Braves, never missing a game; it sort of broke his heart when the Cardinals eliminated them in the playoffs a couple of weeks ago.
A 1946 graduate of Cannon County High School, he organized a small class reunion each year for many years and sent out newsletters periodically to keep all the classmates connected. Lois was also a member of this class and helped with this effort; they were always proud of their Cannon County roots. After a tenure in the U.S. Army where he was stationed in the Philippines, (earning the rank of Sergeant after one year of service), he returned to Tennessee, graduating from MTSU in 2 ½ years while working full-time and caring for his elderly parents.
When he transitioned to school administration in 1968, he earned a Master's Degree fellowship from UT Knoxville. After his retirement from the school system, he purchased the Monday Market, a shopper newspaper, which he successfully ran with his family for about ten years. He earned the Lion's Club "Businessman of the Year" award in 1984. He retired again, but returned to the classroom, teaching math at Motlow College for four years.
Bob loved his family very much, and he will be greatly missed. He is survived by Lois, his wife of 67 years, and two sons, Lane (Evelyn) Curlee and Kevin (Mitzi) Curlee, all of Tullahoma. His grandchildren always made him smile; Rob (Caitie) Curlee, Hannah-Marie (Chris) Bond and Rosalyn (Rusty) Grammer. But it was his great-granddaughters, Sarah Bond, Samantha Bond, Meredith Grammer, and Julie Grammer, that really put a twinkle in his eye. He also had a special affection and fondness for his caregiver in recent months, Marissa Mecum and all the staff at Tennova Healthcare-Harton, Dr. Ryan Carr and staff, Dr. Rob Nichols and staff, and Dr. Matthew Murphy and staff at the Wound Care Center.
Ever thinking of students, Bob donated his body to Vanderbilt Medical School in Nashville for research. An informal community gathering honoring Bob's memory will be held in the Thoma Lecture Hall at Tullahoma High School, Tuesday, November 12th at 5 p.m.