Robert E. Starr was the first in his family to attend college and the role model who instilled a passion for the pursuit of learning in others.
“He was a strong educator,” said Joe Ree Graves of Indianapolis, who was motivated to teach by her uncle. “He believed in education.”
Mr. Starr, 91, died Tuesday of natural causes.
Family members said they will remember Mr. Starr as a driven educator and civil rights activist who was always on the move. He also was a diversity manager for the Federal Aviation Agency, veteran, entrepreneur and author. Starr was active in the NAACP for many years.
He represented the NAACP on the Fort Worth school district’s negotiating team that worked to desegregate local schools.
Mr. Starr’s life work was detailed in a book titled: If I Could, You Can Too.
“He was very spunky and very aggressive,” said Doris Smith, another niece. Smith said he was involved in community activities until last year. He remained plugged into society and ongoing events via the Internet, she said.
Mr. Starr was born on April 6, 1924, to Clarence and Henrietta Harden Starr. He graduated from I.M. Terrell High School in 1939. At age 15, he went to Texas College in Tyler, Smith said. He stayed there for two years before being drafted into the U.S. military for service in World War II. He was a medic who drove ambulances to the front lines while stationed in France, England and Germany, Smith said.
Smith said her uncle also shuttled military leaders to the front lines. After he returned home, he finished his education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Texas College and a master of education at Texas Southern University in Houston. After graduation, Mr. Starr and his brother-in-law, Laron Mitchell, opened Expert Cleaners, which became a family enterprise in which many relatives worked, Smith said.
Mr. Starr also worked as teacher and counselor, Smith said. He was principal at the former Amanda McCoy School in Fort Worth, Smith said. The school was at 2100 Cooper St., according to the Fort Worth school district, and was one of a number of schools built during the 1950s for the city’s black students in the years following landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, which cleared the way for desegregation.
After retiring from the district in 1969, Mr. Starr returned to work as a substitute administrator in 1991 and 1992, according to the Fort Worth school district.
Graves said he inspired her to go to college, teach and volunteer. He also inspired her to keep learning and moving no matter what age.
“He was very active until the end,” Graves said.
Mr. Starr participated in the Minority Leaders Luncheon and the United Negro College Fund, and remained involved in the NAACP for many years, his nieces said. Despite working for the FAA, he only flew once in his life, Smith said. His fear of flying meant he took the train to NAACP meetings in Washington, D.C, from 1988 until about 2000, his nieces said.
Robert Lydia, who serves on the NAACP national board of directors, said he met Mr. Starr in the 1960s and they became friends in the 1970s during the first national conference that he ever attended. Lydia, 71, said Mr. Starr never strayed from his roots.
“He seemed to be an all-around family man,” Lydia said. “He was involved in all of these things, yet he always found time to take care of his family. He certainly cared about the black family and his message was that we should always be engaged. He wanted everyone who could to participate in the process.”
Mr. Starr was a longtime member of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, where he served as chairman of the deacon board, a Sunday school teacher and member of the male chorus. He was a founding member of the Fort Worth/Tarrant County Minority Leaders and Citizens Council.
Mr. Starr was preceded in death by his parents; five siblings; wife, Robbie Scroggins Starr; and daughter, Barbara Ann Starr.
Visitation: 1-7 p.m. Friday at Baker Funeral Home, 301 East Rosedale St., Fort Worth.
Celebration of life: 11 a.m. Saturday, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, 2823 N. Houston St. in Fort Worth
Burial: Cedar Hill Memorial Park, 8301 U.S. 287, Arlington