Herb Dixon: Educator and civic leader laid to rest

Herbert H. Dixon

BY ROGER CLENDENING, STAFF WRITER

ST. PETERSBURG – Herbert H. Dixon, a renowned educator and leader, died earlier this month of natural causes while at home with his family. He was 86.

Laid to rest June 15, the award-winning educator was a teacher, administrator and coach at Northeast and Gibbs High, and with his previous work as a leader at the Melrose YMCA, he helped guide two generations of young black men into manhood.

Dixon and his wife, Gwendolyn, met in 1951 at Gibbs High School, where they were on their respective basketball teams. They began what became a lifelong friendship and marriage sustained by love.

A 1951 graduate of Gibbs, Dixon made his way to Florida A & M University (FAMU) on a basketball scholarship. (While coaching basketball at Gibbs years later, all five starters one year earned full scholarships to Florida A&M, a testament to Dixon’s leadership and guidance).  He served in the U.S. Navy and in 1958 earned his Bachelor of Science. He was a director at Melrose Park YMCA for seven years as he attended school, and by 1965 had earned a master’s degree.

For 12 years, Dixon served his community as a teacher in both Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. During his time working with students, Dixon made time to become certified in administration and in 1977 embarked on a new path as an assistant principal. He was an administrator at Northeast, Dixie Hollins and Gibbs High, where he was an assistant principal until his retirement in 1995.

Among Dixon’s many awards and honors for excellent service, one stood out the most for both he and his wife, the Richard W. Allen Award for Administrative Excellence issued by the Pinellas County Assistant Principals Association.

Barbara C. Shorter, who retired as the principal of Gibbs High, also praised Dixon for his powerful, positive work with young people. Having known him for more than 70 years, (they lived across the street from each other and attended Gibbs and FAMU at the same time) she watched him in action at Northeast High where she was an administrator.

“Herb had a special way with young people,” Shorter proclaimed. “He had an air about him, something special but natural, and the kids, particularly the black boys, would listen to him and follow his guidance.”

Because of those and other qualities, Shorter recruited Dixon to become her assistant principal when she had to opportunity lead Gibbs.

Tackling racism’s inequities, Dixon’s early experience teaching when schools were still segregated tested his mettle. Others in later years would pay tribute to his commitment and courage on behalf of the children placed in his charge.

At the 2015 Faith Memorial Missionary Baptist Church’s 12th annual Black History Honorary Program, Deacon Elbert Johnson said Dixon demonstrated a love for children not only in the school system but also in the congregation.

“He regularly greets them individually by name and asks them how things are going,” Johnson said, noting that Dixon would keep tabs on the children’s successes through adulthood by staying in touch with their parents.

Dixon is also known for his dedication to the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity’s Eta Rho Chapter. His fraternity brother, Rev. Watson Haynes, was there to honor him on his special day back in 2015.

“He is missed already,” said Haynes, extolling his virtues and his commitment to Que Psi Phi, a powerful and positive service organization that Dixon was initiated into after crossing the burning sands 51 years ago.

Affirming Gwendolyn Dixon’s praise for her husband’s work Omega Psi Phi, Haynes added that Dixon’s dedication and attendance were unparalleled.

“He either found his own way to meetings or had a brother pick him up. He remained active and closely involved with our fraternity brothers, and is often called the glue that holds everyone together.”

Dixon, who earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in physical education at FAMU, was a smart and talented athlete who played football, basketball and golf.

“His love of golf caused the fraternity to honor him for his efforts in supporting the annual scholarship fund, and his strong support of Omega’s fishing trip designed to raise scholarships for students,” said Haynes, testifying to Dixon’s importance and value to the community.

In 1970, during his tenure as an assistant football coach at Gibbs, Dixon was among 21 persons injured when lightning struck the practice football field. Two players died that day, and soon after he joined Faith Memorial.

“I have so many friends, but the best one is the friend in Jesus,” Dixon said back in 2015. “I’m grateful that the Lord has made a way for me.”

Herbert Dixon is survived by his wife, Gwendolyn; daughter Cara Taliaferro; two adopted daughters, Kimberly Pierce and Gail Floyd, and a host of grandchildren.

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