By William Johnson
Alderman, coach and mentor Huey Hawkins, 73, lost his long battle with cancer this week and the city he loved held a special flag-raising ceremony in his memory Wednesday morning at city hall.
As one officer raised the flag to half-mast, others in dress uniforms saluted as a police bugler played taps before a gathering of family, friends and supporters.
Speakers including Charles Ross, formerly with the St. Landry Parish School Board; Mayor Donald Cravins Sr.; Police Chief Perry Gallow; several of Hawkins fellow aldermen and women; and others who praised Hawkins' life and service to the city and its people.
"We have lost one of our brothers and great public servant," Cravins said. "He was a good man and devoted to his constituents."
"We want to honor him for his service to Opelousas and to our children. It is an honor and a privilege to do so," Gallow said.
"It was a long battle with cancer but he fought courageously. He was a fighter. He don't stop until the Lord said that was enough," said Capt. Martin McLendon with the Opelousas Police Department, who helped organized the memorial service.
"I've known him since I was 15 years. We lived on the same street for many years," McLendon said. "I grew up without a father. He taught me to be a man. I looked up to him. I will never forget him."
McLendon said Hawkins was always there for him, teaching him to drive and even to cook.
For 40 years Hawkins served as a driving instructor for the St. Landry Parish School System, teaching not only McLendon, but thousands of young people to drive.
His wife, Geraldine, said her husband graduated from Southern University with a degree in social studies and, after a term in the military, began teaching at then George Washington Carver High School in Sunset.
During his many years with the school system, he would go on to teach at Port Barre High School, Melville High School, finally retiring in 1994 from North Central High School.
When he wasn't teaching drivers education or social studies, Hawkins could be found in the gym where he coached basketball at both Melville and North Central. He would also coach girls volleyball for a time.
Mrs. Hawkins said her husband had played basketball in high school and while he loved sports, it was the young people that he loved the most.
"He loved kids. Most had adopted him. He was very patient, very caring, a very good person," Mrs. Hawkins said. "He was always willing to listen, to offer advice. The students would go to him before they would go to the counselor because he was always willing to listen."
She had meet Huey "Hawk" Hawkins when they were both students at Southern. While he would tell friends she was the one for him, she was less sure.
He was a sharp dresser and she thought he was too much of a player. But she would agree to go with him to a Sweetheart Ball on Valentines Day and everything seemed to click.
They would marry her senior year and remain together for 48 years, raising two children of their own.
Their son, Selwyn, said Hawkins was a wonderful father. "He was the greatest dad and an ideal role model. Anytime he gave me advice, it was always correct," Selwyn Hawkins said.
"He was one of the most unselfish people I have ever known. He was always caring and giving. He told me, 'If you care for other people, you are going to be OK,'" Selwyn Hawkins said.
Hawkins' sister, Dorothy Lewis, said she and her older brother were part of family of 12 children who grew up on a farm near Lake Providence before moving into the city when she was about 11.
"Our parents were very nurturing. They gave us a lot of support. They let us know that they had high expectations for us. We grew up knowing we would go to college and become productive citizens and that is what we all did."
She said after the passing of her parents, Hawkins took on the roll of taking care of the family. "Not a week went by when he didn't check on his brothers and sisters. He was a people person. He loved his family."
Lewis said it was his love of his wife that caused him to move to her hometown of Opelousas but it was a town he quickly took to his heart.
"He dearly loved Opelousas and loved his job as a councilman. We are all so proud of his accomplishments," Lewis said.
After retiring from the school system, she said he decided to get involved in politics, serving two terms on the Opelousas City Council.
"He saw things that needed to be fixed. He did accomplish many of the things he wanted to accomplish," Lewis said.
Hawkins' funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Little Zion Baptist Church where he served as a deacon. Visitation will be from 8 a.m. until time of services. Williams Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.