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Family and friends gathered for a gospel fest to recognize Duke Curtis.
Photo courtesy of Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home
Harry Clarke "Duke" Curtis (right) was joined at a gospel fest honoring his achievements by his son Patrick, wife Pat, and daughter Tiffany. He is president of Hamlar-Curtis funeral home.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
As young adults, Harry Clarke “Duke” Curtis and his two older roommates, George “Kila” Miller and Millard Bolden, were known for their parties.
People came from around the city and from colleges in North Carolina and Norfolk to the get-togethers, which initially were held in the clubhouse of their apartment complex, Curtis said
Karen Walker, now known as Lady Karen C, a gospel recording artist, was finishing high school at the time and remembers those parties.
“They were clean-cut parties” held after sports events on Friday and Saturday nights, Walker recalled recently.
Over the years, Walker kept in touch with Curtis through his funeral home business, and last Saturday, she and the trio reunited at High Street Baptist Church for what Curtis later termed “a Jesus party.”
The event was a gospel fest Walker initiated to celebrate and honor the 56-year-old Curtis for his community contributions and his work in the funeral home business.
Curtis, president of Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home, was feted at an afternoon of praise dancing, gospel singing and a serenade of the Louis Armstrong hit “Wonderful World.”
In arranging the gospel fest, Walker, who’s also an evangelist, said she was obeying a message she received from God after Curtis’ father, Harry Cecil Curtis, died a year ago.
The message was to celebrate Duke Curtis’ life, but several obstacles delayed the event until late September, Walker said.
Until the party, few of the 200 or so attendees knew that Duke’s given name is Harry Clarke Curtis, after his late grandfather. According to Curtis, he got the moniker from his paternal grandfather basically because Duke was the only grandson and the name — to the grandfather — signified royalty.
Walker said that Curtis, a second-generation mortician, has always been complimentary and encouraging to her when she sings for funerals and that he’s always humble and working behind the scenes.
She found him and his wife, Pat, to be “genuine and passionate people” when she once interviewed them for an honor they were receiving.
“I’ve never seen Duke in any kind of bad way or out-of-character way,” Walker said.
Duke was a youngster when he started contributing to the community.
His late mother, businesswoman Marilyn Curtis, served on the Roanoke School Board and worked in many community and business organizations. She got Curtis involved in church and community activities, including being the preacher in a Tom Thumb wedding. He also escorted her to community and business affairs when his father was unavailable.
Curtis, who has been a licensed undertaker for 35 years, performed his first adult community service as a member of the board of directors of the old Hunton YWCA when it was on Gainsboro Road.
“I thought I was somebody special, but I learned very fast that board service and giving time in the community is work,” he said.
Yet, he’s since served with numerous with business and community organizations and has coached sandlot football, basketball and baseball, which he found to be fun and relaxing.
The father of two adult children, Curtis praises his own parents and their business partner, the late Lawrence Hamlar, for his development by establishing high standards for him and for stressing the importance of philanthropy.
Although his parents didn’t pressure him to go into the funeral home business, Curtis, who originally wanted to go into the musical business, said they were encouraging and supportive.
Curtis said he was overwhelmed with the turnout, music and comments at the gospel fest, adding he hasn’t done anything extraordinary.
“People don’t have to be nice to you. I couldn’t believe it,” he said after the event, adding he received enough inspiration to get through “whatever storms I’ll have in my life.”
“I see others get honored — preachers and important people. … I don’t think I deserve it. There was probably a time when I was younger that I thought I was deserving of that and more but God has placed me in a situation to do my life dream — being helpful to people. I’m so thankful.”
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