The steady stream of family, friends and former students provided a visual, living timeline for the life of 80-year-old Curtis Segars.
They had gathered Friday to celebrate Segars’ birthday. The sound of laughter mingled with the scent of bacon at Longstreet Cafe in Gainesville, with the former Gainesville High School principal in the center of it all.
He didn’t seem fazed by the surprise party.
“My grandson conned me into this, by saying ‘You need to buy me my breakfast,’” he laughed.
For most people, birthdays are a time of reflection, and perhaps Segars, who helped oversee the desegregation of Gainesville schools, has more to look back on than many.
“Everything is different,” he said. “Things are bigger and more diverse. Kids are smarter,” he said, laughing.
He also noted that there are more opportunities, especially for minorities and women.
“But there’s a little bit more pressure,” Segars added. “‘You’ve got to be this, you’ve got to look this way,’ and so on. But, by the same token, a lot of doors are now open for females that were not open before.”
He spoke about his late wife, who was an office manager for an obstetrician-gynecologist for 20 years. When she first started at the job, all of the doctors and drug company representatives were male.
“When she left after 20 years, most of (the doctors and representatives) were female,” he pointed out.
Segars became principal of Gainesville High School over the summer of 1968, which was also when the board of education decided to officially integrate Gainesville High School with the former E.E. Butler High School.
“It was not easy,” he remembered. “We had, quote, separate but equal, which was not correct, but anyway.”
While historically racial tensions were high, Segars remembered that there was not much in the way of protesting, at least on a local level.
“We had a little bit (of protest) but it came from Atlanta,” he said. “If Atlanta had stayed out of it, I think we would have had an easier time.
“We had a couple of bumps on the road, but we managed to get there,” he added.
A Korean War veteran, Segars came to Gainesville schools as a social science teacher in 1963. He also worked as a football and basketball coach.
Over his teaching career, Segars earned master’s degrees in both counseling and administration. He went from his teaching position into the counseling department, and then became assistant principal. When the former principal left, he took over the position.
“I’ve been in the right place at the right time, I guess,” he said, laughing.
After retiring in 1986, Segars has remained busy in the community, particularly in volunteer work, which he plans to continue.
“He’s a one of a kind, he’s a great guy,” said friend Weymon Forrester. Segars was principal to his sons. “He’s been a wonderful person to this community, and to the kids growing up.”
Segars’ granddaughter, Ashley Skinner, recalled time spent with her grandparents.
“I can’t describe how good he is to us,” she said. “He has been a huge role model in our lives.”
“When it comes down to it, that’s what we have, is family,” Segars reflected.