Hiawatha Northington

Published 5:01 pm Friday, May 26, 2017

July 6, 1933 – May 14, 2107

NATCHEZ — Services for Hiawatha “Doc” Northington, 83, who died Sunday, May 14, 2017, will be 11 a.m. Saturday at Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church.  

Burial will follow at the Natchez City Cemetery under the direction of Robert D. Mackel and Sons Funeral Home.

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Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. today with family hour at 6 p.m., and from 10 a.m. until service time Saturday, all at the church.

Mr. Northington was born July 6, 1933, in Amory, the youngest of eight children to Charlie Lee Northington and Myrtle Verner Northington. Four of his siblings were stillborn, while his brother, Curtis, and his sisters, Mae Ola and Olga, preceded him in death.

Although beset with significant hearing loss brought on by a childhood illness, young Hiawatha never allowed that to interfere with his success. He closely shadowed the humble yet persistent work ethic of his father, who worked on the Frisco Railroad, while adopting the warm and inviting personality of his mother. He committed to God early in life, serving as a deacon at St. Paul Baptist Church in Amory as a teenager. He followed in the footsteps of his big brother Curtis, lettering in high school football as a halfback and punter, and harboring dreams of attending and playing for the renowned Tuskegee Institute. And, in his sisters, who were a good bit older than he, Hiawatha found blueprints for his pathway to success.

He graduated from Monroe County Training School in 1950, as valedictorian at age 16.

At Jackson State College, Hiawatha found himself exposed to a variety of new things. Evan though as a child, he spent time in larger cities like St. Louis and Pittsburgh, he considered himself a “country boy.” Nevertheless, he quickly adapted to his new environment, creating relationships that would last throughout his life.

Always industrious, Hiawatha took advantage of every opportunity to lessen the burden of the costs of his education being borne by his parents. He worked near the college campus at the cotton oil mill and during summers, worked at U.S. Steel in Gary, Ind.

He excelled on campus as a leader, joining the Upsilon Epsilon Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity in 1951, and participating in the YMCA and student council. During his senior year, he served as class treasurer and worked on the annual staff as circulation manager, surprising absolutely no one when he was selected as the most popular boy on campus.

After graduating from Jackson State College in 1954, Mr. Northington earned secondary teaching certifications in both Mississippi and Louisiana. He ultimately arrived in Natchez to begin an uninterrupted 40-year plus career as a teacher in the Natchez-Adams School District.

With his youthful energy and engaging personality, he quickly became a favorite among the students whom he taught chemistry, biology, physics, algebra and calculus as the newly built Sadie V. Thompson High School, earning the nickname “Doc” which remained with him throughout his life.

Since Sadie V. was brand new, the male staff was called on for a multitude of tasks. So, in addition to his teaching duties, Doc also served briefly as an assistant football coach. Well-dressed and smelling good, he would thrill the students at Sadie V. with his experiments during assemblies of “turning water into wine and drinking it” or “lighting a candle and eating it.” Early in his career, he also served as an instructor at Alcorn State, often teaching students older than he was. His experience teaching at the college level served him well, because he brought a collegiate approach to his classroom, which many students had never seen.

Any of his students will tell you that Doc’s class was different. He made you feel as if advanced math, or trigonometry, or physics was something that you were built to understand. By integrating the everyday lives of his students into his method of teaching, Doc was able to impart wisdom which carried far beyond the walls of his classrooms. He made deductive reasoning a part of everyday language, and before leaving his class, everyone knew exactly what “subterfuge” meant.

It was during his tenure at Sadie V. that, in 1956, Doc married Eunice Moore, a bright, talented, and breathtakingly beautiful elementary school teacher at Sadie V. They made their home right around the corner from the school on College Street, and soon welcomed daughters, LaDonna Kaye and Monica Lynne.

Doc also believed that education was a continuing process, so it made sense that he would complete post-graduate studies at Howard University, Auburn University and the University of Michigan.

In 1969, the Northington family relocated to Florida Drive, also near the school where Doc would continue his teaching career following the closing of Sadie V., as a high school — newly named North Natchez High School. Shortly thereafter, they welcomed a third child, son Hiawatha II.

Located in “the annex,” Doc held dominion for the next two decades, challenging minds and opening eager eyes to the world of algebra, trigonometry, calculus, analysis and physics. In 1987, he became the first black teacher named to the Mississippi STAR Teacher Hall of Fame, where he remains the only teacher from Natchez to earn this achievement. For almost the entirety of his tenure at North Natchez, Doc also was the sole proctor during “7th period,” where he routinely assisted students assigned to detention with classwork, or simply offered them insight into life. He also was a great supporter of the Ram football teams, enthusiastically working with event staff at home games, and traveling with the team out of town on Friday nights throughout southern Mississippi.

Far from just a teacher, Doc was a fixture in the Natchez community, serving as a deacon at Rose Hill Baptist Church for more than 40 years. To further assist in supporting his family, he also provided janitorial services at the Adams County Courthouse, the National Guard Armory and various banks in the area. During the summer breaks, he continued his work for the school district by painting the classrooms at various schools around Natchez and restoring the floor of the North Natchez gymnasium.

After the consolidation of public high schools led to the formation of Natchez High in 1989, Doc completed the last phase of his teaching career there in 1996, passing on the mantle of teaching excellence to a new generation of educators.

In retirement, Doc continued to do those things which brought him great satisfaction. To his last day, and in the true spirit of his exhortation to his students to “ascertain the truth,” he read constantly, literally devouring anything in written form, from newspapers and magazines to works of fiction and non-fiction. Because of his hearing deficiency, he preferred writing letters, so when asked by students to provide letters of reference, Doc would not hesitate to put pen to paper. In fact, it was often the case that Doc’s recommendations proved to be the item that gave the student the needed edge in applications for admission to colleges and for scholarships.

His lifelong passion for landscaping, which he shared with his dear wife, was reflected in the dedicated precision with which he cared for his home and yard. Throughout the year, Doc and Mrs. Eunice could be seen carefully tending to the grass and shrubs, caring for their roses and azaleas, and at least twice a year, moving her houseplants back and forth between their home and their classrooms. And, if you were lucky enough, you had a chance to taste some of Doc’s delicious barbecue.

Before illness required him to relocate closer to his wife and children, Doc would often see former students in the community, many times receiving visits at the home from those in town for work or to visit family. He truly enjoyed hearing stories of their achievements and travels, and humbly accepted their thanks when they attributed their success to him. Ever the teacher, he would always leave them with a meaningful word designed to challenge their world views and to keep building their body of knowledge.

In addition to his parents and siblings, Doc was preceded in death by his loving wife in 2016.

He leaves with the fondest of memories, his three children, LaDonna, Monica and Hiawatha; his precious three grandchildren, Matt, Courtland and Jordan; his treasured daughter-in-law, Cathy; cousins, Edward Parham, Margie McKinney and Jennifer Taylor; and a number of nieces, nephews and a multitude of friends.

Maybe most significantly, though, his most lasting impact is felt by the thousands of students whose lives he touched, both inside and outside the classroom.

Doc’s legacy as a pedagogue (he loved that word) is reflected most clearly in one of his favorite Bible scriptures — the Parable of the Talents, which records, in part: “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”