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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