At 6-foot-4, Curtis Wells towered over students and teachers alike at schools he led in Boston and Brockton. His voice could fill an auditorium during an assembly or reach the distant end of a hallway when he suggested that his charges abide by the bell and head to class.
As an African-American who first moved into leadership roles during the years of busing and desegregation, Mr. Wells was well aware that he was a role model for teenagers and faculty, though some of the pressure was simply a result of being the person everyone looked to for answers.
“You feel a great deal of loneliness being the top administrator,” he told the Globe in 1990, when he was headmaster of Hyde Park High School. “It’s all on you. You have to explain why something doesn’t work right.”
Although that job was particularly difficult, “I get a lot of satisfaction from the young people whose behavior you can change,” he added. “You can see them grow, you can see them mature. I enjoy these kids, even the problem ones. These kids need people who are going to believe in them, who trust them to do the right thing. I find myself placing a lot of trust in these kids.”
Mr. Wells, who during nearly 40 years as an educator was a teacher and administrator at middle schools, high schools, and charter schools, died of a heart attack Feb. 5 in his Mattapan home. He was 70.
“He was a champion and a defender, someone who was always there to protect and to guide,” said his daughter Kara of Mattapan, an education consultant who has been a teacher in Boston and South Carolina.
“One of the greatest things I’ve taken away from my father is what I call the Curtis Wells philosophy, the ‘five Fs,’ ” she said. “The balance of faith, of family, of finances, of fun, and of fundamentals. I think my father was a great example of that.”
Mr. Wells brought those values to his work as an administrator in Boston at Dearborn and Timilty middle schools, Madison Park and Hyde Park high schools, the Another Course to College alternative education program, and Roxbury Charter High School. He also helped launch Champion Charter School in Brockton, where he was the director.
Drawn to an education career in part by the example of an older sister who taught at a Roxbury middle school, Mr. Wells at times found himself presiding over institutions fraught with overcrowding. The school buildings often needed repairs their budgets seemed unable to accommodate.
His career stretched from the discord of the busing crisis through times when some students began bringing weapons to school, and on into the advent of MCAS testing. Although many parents looked askance at urban schools, he noted that small successes often were ignored.
“The other day a young man came into my office, a sophomore, and he wanted me to read an article that he had written for the school newspaper,” Mr. Wells told the Globe in 1990 when he was headmaster at Hyde Park High School. “He’s a super kid and he’s doing the right thing. But the positives are never noted. Instead, the negative image impacts morale and people become very cynical about the school. It’s something that I’m trying to address.”
In all his postings as a school administrator, “he knew he had to do well,” said his wife, Wilberanne. “He had to meet the needs of everyone. He connected with the children, especially the African-American boys. Many of them were fatherless, and they respected his leadership.”
Religious since childhood, Mr. Wells was a member of the Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church in Roxbury for more than 60 years.
“Curtis was following a path that I think was really led by the Lord,” his wife said.
The youngest of five children born to George Wells and the former Ursel Spence, Curtis Daniel Wells grew up in Roxbury. His father was a mail carrier and his mother worked for the state’s unemployment insurance division.
His devotion to helping out at the church began early. As a young boy, he crawled under pews to pick up nails when carpeting was replaced, and as an adult, he served on church committees and was the leader of the lay organization for the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s regional conference.
“Curtis was the kind of person who would go into any department in the church,” his wife said. “Wherever he was needed, he would go and help.”
He graduated from Boston English High School, received a bachelor’s degree from Boston State College, and a master’s in education from the University of Massachusetts, his family said, and he also received a certificate for advanced studies from Harvard University, which he attended on a fellowship.
For decades, at the schools where he worked and at his church, Mr. Wells participated in community theater productions, directing plays and sometimes acting under the direction of his wife. In recent years, after retiring, he served in leadership roles with an organization for seniors and the Roxbury YMCA.
On June, 27, 1970, Mr. Wells married Wilberanne Dreher, who originally was from South Carolina. They met when she went to the Charles Street AME Church with a cousin.
“I did pray to the Lord that I would find the right person to marry,” she recalled, and at that first service she saw Mr. Wells. When she was out for a walk the following day, Mr. Wells drove by “and pulled up beside me and said, ‘Aren’t you the girl who just joined the church?’ ”
A service has been held for Mr. Wells, who in addition to his wife and daughter Kara leaves a son, Kyle of Atlanta; another daughter, Kristyn of Washington, D.C.; a sister, Ursel Curry of Mattapan; and two granddaughters.
His daughter Kara founded the Curtis Wells Academy & Center for Urban Relief & Education in Boston.
After Mr. Wells died, many former students spoke to the family of how he helped with activities ranging from teaching them to drive to attending their extracurricular activities.
“How was he able to be a father to everybody? I always thought that I got 100 percent,” Kara said. “I believe when you’re fulfilling your passion, you can go from one arena to another seamlessly. He was pretty amazing.”