February 10, 2009

Larry Hawkins, U of C youth advocate, 78

Chicago community members came together at Rockefeller Chapel Saturday to remember Dr. Larry Hawkins, a member of the University community who died January 30 at age 78. Hawkins was director of the Office of Special Programs/College Prep at the University since 1968.

The many speakers at the service, alternately referring to Hawkins as “Dr. Hawkins,” “coach,” and “Larry,” underscored the deep impression Hawkins left on those he mentored or worked with.

Mathematics professor Paul Sally, who worked with Hawkins as part of the Big Buddies mentoring program, said he “never met anybody else” who could form such close connections with all the program participants. “And he knew thousands,” Sally said.

Hawkins was the president or founder of numerous programs, such as the Institute for Athletics and Education, geared towards educationally disadvantaged youth on Chicago’s South Side.

Former U.S. Senator Carol Mosely Braun (D-IL), who first encountered Hawkins when she was a student at a youth summer program, said Hawkins “showed me how to find the hero in myself.”

A former athletics coach and teacher, Hawkins drove home the importance of using sports as a tool for education, demanding good grades from his athletes in an era when it was not commonplace to do so.

“Dr. Hawkins believed the proper role for school sports was as a tool for education,” said retired school teacher Kimberly Chambers. Chambers was on the cheerleading squad during Hawkins’ tenure as a basketball coach at Carver High School from 1956 into the mid-1960s.

Astrophysics professor Roger Hildebrand recalled that in 1968, many newspapers wrote that the University of Chicago recruited Hawkins. But Hildebrand believed it was the other way around: "Larry Hawkins recruited the University. He came with a clear and convincing program, and he needed the University to carry out his mission.”