Obituary: Mary Bernadette Fischer Curtiss, Trumbull High teacher for 35 years

Mary Bernadette Fischer Curtiss

Mary Bernadette Fischer Curtiss

Mary Bernadette Fischer Curtiss, 69, popular and respected English teacher at Trumbull High School for 35 years (1971-2006) has passed away at The Connecticut Hospice after an eight year battle with breast and brain cancer.

Mrs. Curtiss’s influence in the Trumbull school system is legendary, having been a pioneer in instituting elective classes in such cutting edge subjects as Charlie Chaplin, Kurt Vonnegut, Shakespeare, and the overwhelmingly popular “Literature of Peace and Protest.” Her team taught American Studies class was always heavily sought after by Trumbull juniors.

Mrs. Curtiss, a 40-year resident of Orange,  was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1945 to Hon. Herbert and Lucille Smith Fischer. She grew up in West Haven, Ct and graduated from Sacred Heart Academy in 1963. She has a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University and two master’s degrees (Trinity College, Wesleyan University).

In addition to Trumbull High School, she taught concurrently at Albertus Magnus College and Sacred Heart University. A Literacy Volunteers class that she taught to inmates in the New Haven jail inspired her to write “Solitary Voices,” her Wesleyan Master’s thesis.

Survivors include her husband of 40 years, Clayton Curtiss, a 37 year teacher at Trumbull High School, brother Attorney James Fischer and Tim Monis and brother Robert and sisters Jean and Lucille. She was predeceased by brothers Herbert and William.  She also leaves behind  many adoring nieces and nephews, stepchildren, and two step grandchildren, nine godchildren, and especially hundreds of former students.

Beyond the classroom, Mrs. Curtiss was well known for her personal connection to students. For four summers she and her husband led student trips to the annual Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.

Mrs. Curtiss was recognized throughout her career for her commitment to teaching and students. She was named Trumbull’s Teacher of the Year in 1987 and was runner-up for the Connecticut title. In 1988 she studied at the Ashland festival under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, then in 1989 spent a summer in Stratford-Upon-Avon, immersed in the life and works of The Bard, also sponsored by the NEH. The Connecticut Education Association honored Mary in 1990 with the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Award. Twice she was recognized by the Arts and Entertainment TV channel for her effective use of television in the classroom. She was also selected by the Milken Family Foundation for its prestigious award for excellent teaching. Though not a teaching award, the International House in New Haven named her and her husband the host family of the year for the many foreign students they took under their wings.

The culmination of her teaching career was agreeing in 2008 to a two year opportunity for her and her husband to teach at King’s Academy in Madaba-Manga, Jordan, a new coeducational, multi-national  boarding school. She saw this as a unique opportunity to put into practice her belief in the power of education to promote peace. Sadly her efforts were cut short by the recurrence of the cancer that ultimately claimed her life.

The family asks that in place of flowers, Mary’s friends make an additional contribution to a charity of their choice.

In accordance with her wishes, Mary’s remains were donated to the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University to carry on her mission of teaching.

A memorial service is being planned.

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  • Karen Leyton

    Rest in peace, my beautiful friend. You touched our lives in such a profound way and you were taken too soon.

    With our deepest condolences to the Curtiss and Fischer families,
    The Leyton Family, Shelton, CT

  • Matthew Shapiro

    I took her Lit. of Peace, Protest and War & Shakespeare classes back in 2000 and I’d like to think she did a lot of change my perspectives. Certainly she convinced me to love Shakespeare.

  • cdimarco

    I was a bit aimless in High School. Mrs. Curtiss was one of the few people
    willing to give me the kick in the pants that I so often needed. Her guidance and letter of recommendation were arguably the only reasons I made it into college, and I submit that whatever humble skills I have reading, writing and thinking critically all have roots in her lessons. I can still hear her asking “What does it say? What does it mean?” when I read.

    I will remember her as one of those special teachers who understood that teaching how to think trumps teaching what to think. Despite a decade and a half since I left her class, few have had the level of positive impact on my life that Mrs. Curtiss did. I’m sure that I’m not alone in that.

    Thank you Mary.

  • cdimarco

    I was a bit aimless in High School. Mrs. Curtiss was one of the few people
    willing to give me the kick in the pants that I so often needed. Her guidance and letter of recommendation were arguably the only reasons I made it into college, and I submit that whatever humble skills I have reading, writing and thinking critically all have roots in her lessons. I can still hear her asking “What does it say? What does it mean?” when I read.

    I will remember her as one of those special teachers who understood that teaching how to think trumps teaching what to think. Despite a decade and a half since I left her class, few have had the level of positive impact on my life that Mrs. Curtiss did. I’m sure that I’m not alone in that.

    Thank you Mary.

  • Vicky Bui

    She is the reason I got into this field of work! It was senior year English class with Mrs. Curtiss where she had us watch a documentary on public defenders in Florida going above and beyond to help delinquent youth. Watching that video inspired me to work with that population. I told myself I would be a juvenile lawyer and do the same exact thing, my path took a short detour and I never made it to law school but I was just as determined to work with those same youth! And now I’m a Juvenile Probation Officer. I may have taken a short cut but I never strayed from my dream and goals that I wouldn’t have realized I had unless I was in Mrs. Curtiss’ class. She wrote my friends and I a joint college recommendation letter that we didn’t even ask for! She simply handed it to us one day…it was the most unique recommendation letter I’ve ever read and I bet those colleges have never ever read anything like it! Who writes a recommendation letter for three students in one? Mrs. Curtiss did! I regret not reaching out and keeping in contact with you after high school. May you Rest in Paradise! I will never forget you. RIP

  • Dana Orsman

    I had a hard time navigating my way through Trumbull High in the late 80’s. Mrs. Curtiss didnt let me get away with slipping through the cracks; she taught me how to think for and express myself. And, I know it sounds like a cliche, but she truly believed in me and showed interest in me as a unique human being. I’ll never forget her and her legacy.

  • There are few teachers that will stay with me the way that Mary did.

    I recall one instance where she was teaching transcendentalism and Hawthorne when she admitted that her happiest moment in life had most likely already past. I hope she was thinking of that moment when she passed. She helped us all recognize and cherish our passions and insisted that we explore the best in ourselves. I’ll never forget that.

    My thoughts are with Clayton. This world will miss you, Mrs. Curtiss.

  • Martin McGrath

    Mary was a special teacher that I had the opportunity to mentor under during my first four years of teaching. She taught me that the connection you make with your students is just as important as the content you teach. However the most important part of being a teacher is getting your students to think for themselves. The world is a less interesting now that she is gone but the world is a better place having had the benefit of her being a part of it.

    Thanks for everything you taught me and our students Mary.

  • nickeda mabry

    She was one of the best and influential teachers I have ever came across… Thank you for everything

  • Jim Meisner

    My thoughts are with Clayton, one of my favorite THS teachers from the early 1970s. Mary and Clayton had such a positive impact on that school.

  • Diane Mase Kavrell

    I am sad to hear about Ms. Fischer’s passing. I had her in the early 70’s before she was married. She was one of those teachers you never forgot because of the powerful impact they had on your life. She was a wonderful asset
    to the High School and I am sorry for the current students that won’t get to enjoy
    her. My thoughts are with you Mr. Curtiss.

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