J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award honors Dallas headmaster

“Look at me. I am more than what you see. / Destiny is mine! If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

Students from St. Philip’s School brought many in the audience to tears as they recited the school creed at the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award Luncheon on March 23. The luncheon, which took place at the Belo Mansion, honored the students’ headmaster, Dr. Terry Flowers.

The award, presented by SMU’s Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, is given annually to those whose careers should be recognized, honored and modeled. Dr. Flowers received the award for his work in transforming a small Episcopal school in South Dallas into a thriving private school and community center over a period of 30 years.

Students and alumni of St. Philip’s attended the luncheon. One alumnus, Michael Rawlings, said he was blessed to be a graduate of the school. Now one of the school’s success stories after graduating from Morehouse College and receiving his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Northwestern University, Rawlings hopes he will inspire more students to follow in his footsteps. But he says that he could not have done it without his headmaster.

“He showed me the value of hard work to achieve one’s dreams,” said Rawlings. “He also showed me the value of a firm handshake.”

The school’s location on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. puts it right in the heart of South Dallas. While it serves those of all economic backgrounds, there is an emphasis on low and moderate income families.

Under Flowers’ direction, the neighborhood surrounding the school has gotten safer. When a nightclub closed, the school bought it for a new field house. During his time as headmaster, St. Philips has grown into an elementary school, community center, food pantry, Meals on Wheels depot and athletic complex.

Bobby Lyle, the namesake of the Lyle School of Engineering, called Flowers and his work “legendary.”

“Why would somebody do this? Why would somebody work so hard to put a school on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Because that’s where the children who live have the biggest need,” Lyle said in his opening remarks,

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Dr. Terry Flowers was awarded with the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award on March 23. Photo credit: SMU

In his acceptance speech, Flowers thanked his “four Gs:” his wife, Gernise; his girls; his group, referring to those who helped start St. Philips; and his God. He said the Lord inspired him to overcome his circumstances as the eldest of five to a single mother on the streets of Chicago, doing so through education. After becoming the first in his family to graduate high school, Flowers went on to receive master’s degrees from University of Northern Iowa and Columbia University.

The J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award is named after the former mayor of Dallas, who was a founder of Texas Instruments and an advocate of eduction. He prided himself on civic duty, and his award honors those who epitomize the spirit of moral leadership and public virtue.

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