Dunn, who worked there for nearly a quarter-century as a county commissioner, wouldn’t be back.
Dunn, 94, died Tuesday shortly before 5 a.m. at Stringfellow Memorial Hospital after undergoing surgery on a fractured hip. The Calhoun County commissioner suffered from chronic pain and was recently admitted to the hospital after falling, but his death caught those who worked with him off guard.
“If everybody would carry their life the way he did it, the world would be an absolutely beautiful place to live,” said Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner, who worked with Dunn for 25 years. “I don’t know anybody who didn’t like Pappy Dunn.”
At the time of his death, Dunn was serving his sixth term as county commissioner. He is known to some solely for his accomplishments as a commissioner, but Dunn had a career as an educator that preceded his stint in public office and lasted nearly twice as long.
Dunn taught at the Calhoun County Training Center between 1939 and 1986, a teaching career interrupted only by his service in World War II. By the time he retired, he had been the school’s principal for almost 20 years.
At the start of Dunn’s tenure, the school was an all-black institution in a segregated system.
Dunn oversaw the transition integration, and the school would eventually become an integrated elementary school for students in grades one through three.
As an educator, Dunn developed a reputation for being fair and dedicated to his profession. He garnered respect, his former pupils say, without demanding it.
“We used to walk like Pappy, talk like Pappy,” said William Hutchings, now an Anniston school board member. “I had always wanted to follow in Pappy’s footsteps.”
Eventually Hutchings would go on to follow in Dunn’s footsteps. Like Dunn, he attended Alabama State University. Like Dunn, he became an educator. And like Dunn, he rounded out a career at C.E. Hannah Elementary School, formerly Calhoun County Training School, and entered public office.
Hutchings said Dunn taught algebra and chemistry and served as the school’s football coach. As a coach, Dunn taught the importance of being kind and fair, Hutchings said.
Dunn taught a chemistry class to David Satcher, the Anniston boy who would grow up to become U.S. Surgeon General. In past interviews with The Star, Satcher said Dunn treated him like a son and was instrumental in helping Satcher select a university.
“As I think back on it, I would say he believed in us and wanted us to believe in ourselves,” Satcher said in 1986, when his former teacher retired. “That kind of thing makes a difference in your life. You sort of never get over it.”
When Dunn started teaching at the Calhoun County Training Center in 1939, 100 high school students were enrolled in the then four-room wooden school building in Hobson City. When he left 47 years later, the school housed 1,300 elementary students.
Dunn was elected the second black president of the Alabama Education Association, serving in that post in the 1973-74 term, just after AEA merged with the Alabama State Teachers Association.
The same characteristics that enabled him to lead the school during tumultuous times helped him ease into his second, post-retirement career as a Calhoun County commissioner.
“Pappy just had the gift of knowing when to talk and when to be quiet and that when he talked he knew what to say,” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Alabama Association of County Commissioners. “He was always able to bring people together.”
Brasfield worked with Dunn for 25 years and said Dunn stayed active as a commissioner throughout his career in public office. As recently as a couple of months ago, Dunn was in Montgomery helping the association craft legislation for the association, Brasfield said.
Dunn gained respect among commissioners statewide almost instantly and was selected as an officer in the association within his first term in office.
“He was just Pappy,” Brasfield said. “It didn’t take him eight years for everybody to see that he could lead this organization. You just kind of knew that when you met him the first time.”
Eventually, as a commissioner, Dunn would work alongside some of the people who were once his pupils, but his former students in leadership roles today continued to look to Dunn for direction.
Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCrory was one of Dunn’s alegebra and chemistry students. When she entered public office Dunn offered her guidance.
“I talked to him a lot when I first took office,” McCrory said. “He was an elder statesman for us. I’m going to miss all the guidance and encouragement and affirmation that I received from him.”
She never stopped seeking to please her former teacher. About five years ago on a trip to Montgomery that included Dunn, she was selected to serve as the driver.
“I wanted to make sure I did everything right and that I drove according to the speed limit.” McCrory said. “I just felt so good about having him in my care.”
Then, when they were nearing Oxford Dunn offered the type of affirmation she now says she’ll miss.
“He looked over at me and said you’re a good little driver,” McCrory said. “That really meant a lot to me.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_star.