SULPHUR — When Larry Hawkins, longtime superintendent at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf, passed away suddenly last month, the shock was felt far and wide.   
Hawkins worked in Deaf education for more than 40 years, forming countless connections with students and other educators along the way. During his two stints as OSD superintendent, he secured grants to renovate the dormitories and oversaw the construction of OSD’s Little Village. The school’s activity center bears his name, but his real legacy reaches well beyond the boundaries of the campus.
 Jamie Wilson, an OSD teacher, said like many others before her, she’d known Hawkins for years before coming to the school to teach.
“As far as Deaf education goes, it is such a great loss,” Wilson said. “I just can’t say that enough.”
Wilson said Hawkins was an advocate, friend and educator, but what set him apart was his experience and extensive knowledge of Deaf education.
“There really are not many of us who have that experience,” Wilson said. “He helped mold Deaf educators across the state because he was involved in Deaf education. That’s one thing, but he also had the personality that connected with students.”
Wilson attended Jane Brooks School for the Deaf in Chickasha as a child. Hawkins, a professor at the time, brought a college class to visit the school. Like many educators, Hawkins had a penchant for remembering former students. As a college student, she majored in Deaf education and Hawkins was her supervising teacher during her first year as a teacher in public school. Without any place to put her, the school placed her in a small space with a single desk.
“I will never forget the look on his face when he saw me teaching in a closet,” Wilson said. “It was very small. It was their first year of having a deaf student, and they didn’t have a classroom for me.”
She said Hawkins met with administrators on her behalf, explaining how the space was inadequate and inappropriate. The next school year, they moved her to a proper classroom.
“It really was because of him,” Wilson said. “He knew what was best for deaf students, and he would fight for what was right and for what the deaf kids needed. That’s who he was.”
Hawkins started as superintendent of OSD in 2001, retired for two years, and returned in 2011.
“He was a very good leader,” Wilson said. “He knew how to lead teachers, and really everyone, to do what was right in Deaf education.”
Hawkins, who wasn’t deaf himself, wrote, submitted and helped pass legislation improving Deaf education standards in the state by mandating that public school interpreters need to hold at least a level three certification. Wilson, who started her career in public school, said she saw the impact that legislation had on mainstreamed deaf students firsthand.
“For the first two years I was in public school teaching, public school had an interpreter and I thought, “Okay,’” Wilson said. “When I got to meet her, my goodness, she couldn’t sign at all. It was like Kindergarten-level signing. When I met the kids and saw their vocabulary, it was like the interpreter’s. It was very basic.”
She said part of what set Hawkins apart was his love of sharing stories, whether they were from his time as a teacher, a professor or from his experiences as a parent. He also loved listening to deaf people’s stories, whether they were his students or not, and often used them to bridge gaps with hearing people.
“The hard part is to explain this to the parents of deaf students and with legislators,” Wilson said. “He had a way with words, and he could explain, give examples. He always shared stories. That’s one way he established a connection with people and made sure he was very clear.”
Wilson said Hawkins worked on the national level as a member of the American Society for Deaf Children, and was a part of countless other organizations.
“It’s really hard to explain how important he was to all of us,” Wilson said. “You’ve heard the statement ‘Heart of Gold?’ For the Deaf community, we give the highest honor to a hearing person only if they have a Deaf heart. Larry had a Deaf heart.”
Pamela Fylstra, a high school English teacher at OSD, grew up with Wilson and first met Hawkins when she was about six years old. She and her brother, who are both deaf, attended a church without an interpreter, but during one service, Hawkins came to the church with a choir group that incorporated sign language into their performance.
“I was so shocked because he was signing on stage,” Fylstra said. “I was just so fascinated. I called him ‘The Golden Man’ because his hair was so blond back then.”
As an adult, he served as her college advisor and students often came to his house for picnics and parties, or just came by to say hello. During class, he told amusing stories about life as a professor. Outside of class, he’d talk about his other hobbies, like ballroom dancing, antiquing and cooking.
As superintendent, Hawkins kept his doors open. Students dropped in at a moment’s notice just to talk, or ask questions or speak up about concerns they had. They also dropped by his home in Ardmore.  
Shannon Lewis, an eighth grade student, first met Hawkins during his brief retirement. During that time, he shuttled students from Ardmore City Schools to OSD.
“It was so nice to interact with Mr. Hawkins when he was our driver,” Lewis said. “He loved his family, he loved all the students here, the staff, the teachers, and I really loved Mr. Hawkins too.”
A few years later, Hawkins would return as superintendent. Lewis said Hawkins respected students’ opinions, whether he was speaking one on one or giving a presentation to a group.
“He was my friend,” Lewis said. “But also, Mr. Hawkins knew how to pay attention to kids. They loved Mr. Hawkins because they have a superintendent (who made) sure everything was good for them. He had a good plan for the school.”
Roland Potter, a junior, has been attending OSD since 2008, and remembers Hawkins retiring, then returning, and remembers how quickly the school changed when he returned.
“I was really happy when he came back,” Potter said. “It was my opinion that the superintendent that was here said ‘no’ to too many things. Mr. Hawkins believed this was our home. To me, he wasn’t just our superintendent, he was more like a grandpa.”
The last time they spoke, the school was preparing for their accreditation process and Hawkins gave him a box of doughnuts. Potter said just days later, he found out through a text message that Hawkins had passed away.    
“It was more of a shock than sadness,” Wilson said. “We all went through that. It didn’t register at first. Of course, the shock leads to sadness, leads to grief.”
 Wilson, Fylstra and two other teachers, Kara Floyd and Naomi Woodall, worked together on a project for Hawkins’ funeral. They initially set out to interpret the Elvis Presley song “If I Had a Dream,” but the lyrics didn’t lend themselves to interpretation. Eventually, they decided to go a less literal route, signing the story of Hawkins’ life and work in time with the music.
“It came out beautifully,” Fylstra said. “It matched with the song, and everyone loved it. The lyrics were talking about a dream, and we said we would take up and go on with his dream, his dream of deaf children being successful.”