The Hampton Roads community lost a giant among men on August 21, 2018 in the passing of Curtis George Maddox. He was an icon in this community. As the Ghanaians used to acclaim to the rhythmic beating of the drums when they gathered to celebrate the life of an eminent chief or other leaders of the community, “a big tree has fallen.” Curt’s death was like a big tree in the woods that fell and cannot be replaced.
I met him in 1968 when he came to Norfolk as head coach of the Norfolk State College football team. I was in the U.S. Navy and working part-time as a teletype operator and sports correspondent for the Virginian-Pilot Newspaper. I was assigned to interviewing coaches and players on Thursdays during football season to get a feature story before their Saturday game. Curt, who was having a not-so-good season, accused me of trashing him in the newspaper each time I interviewed him. It bothered him to the point that he told one of his brothers in Mississippi about it.
At that time, Curt did not know that, like him, I was also from Mississippi. Soon after the football season ended that year, I took a trip, on vacation to Mississippi. Curt was from Greenwood, and I was from Leland about 50 miles apart. During my visit I went to the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) club in Greenville, Mississippi to a party. Curt’s brother John was on the door to greet and admit guests. At the door I was introduced to John and told him my name and where I was from. He immediately recognized my name and related it to Norfolk and asked me about Curt. With a few expletives he told me I was the one Curt had told him about who was trashing him in the newspaper. He immediately got on the phone and called Curt. As a result of the phone call, Curt asked me to stop by his office when I got back to Norfolk.
At that time Curt had established the Curtron General Contracting Company with an office on Granby Street in Norfolk. I did stop by and after conversations about our lives in Mississippi and who we knew there then and now, we became friends. But our friendship did not really develop until 1972 after I returned from a cruise to Vietnam. After my trip to Vietnam, I was stationed and living on base at the Norfolk Naval Station.
Curt, like many Black men who grew up in the South during the Jim Crow era, had developed a dogmatic attitude and had learned how to work hard to survive and achieve success. He believed that if you worked hard you would be successful. That was his mantra.
As I got to know Curt I found him to be one of the most gentle and caring persons you could know. He would give you the shirt off his back if he felt you needed it. One of his main beliefs was that if you worked hard you could achieve and he had no hesitation about telling you that to your face! He was willing to give you a job and teach you to work hard.
During the 1970’s Curt helped establish and provided financial resources to help a number of local Black businessmen to survive who were in financial trouble. He would back them with financial help and advice on how to manage for success. Because of his aggressive style of doing business and not mincing his words, some people berated him behind his back, but were among the first in line for his help when they got in trouble. He always told me, “Home Boy, you got to be aggressive and stay on top of things to stay in business.”
He was not all business. Curt had a good business and social life. He was a man who enjoyed the fruits of his labor. I called him the week day businessman and the weekend social bug. Like his business life, his social life was full of fun. He enjoyed his work and his play. What a lot of people didn’t know was that although he was dedicated to his work, he was equally committed to socializing and having fun with his family and friends. He was a member of and helped sponsor several social and community organizations. He often traveled out of town and sometimes out of the country with and visiting family and friends.
Curt met his ideal life mate when he met his future wife Pearl. One day he came home while I was visiting him and told me, “Homeboy, I just met the prettiest woman in Virginia!” A few days later he asked me to go with him to meet her. So we went to her house in Virginia Beach. He later asked me, “What do you think?” I said, “Man, you have found you a masterpiece.” He and Pearl got married and she became not only his wife but his best business partner. They worked together; they traveled together and they were two happy people. She was his greatest supporter and encourager. Curt usually made up his own mind after getting advice from others, but when Miss “P,” as he called her, spoke he listened.
Curtis George Maddox’s obituary has been written, his eulogy has been preached. There is so much more that can be told about Curt’s greatness but I felt that I had to write a tribute to share my experiences and knowledge about Curtis George Maddox. As a matter of fact, I had long been wanting Curt to tell his story. I encouraged him on many occasions saying, “Homeboy, you got to write a book! You’ve got a story to tell”. Fortunately he did publish “Learning to Live” in 2013. The best stories will be told for years to come of his legacy seen and heard from football players and others who knew him.
By Shedrick Byrd
A frequent contributor to the New Journal and Guide