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Alfred Quinn, 80; First African American to Teach in the Santa Monica School District

March 06, 2003|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Alfred Quinn, who in 1951 was the first African American to be hired as a teacher in the Santa Monica school district, has died. He was 80.

Quinn, who also had held a number of positions in Santa Monica city government, died Feb. 26 of complications from diabetes. He had been hospitalized at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.

During his 24 years on the faculty of Santa Monica College, he was dean of student services for six years and the school's affirmative action officer for another six.

"I feel good about what I have been able to accomplish," he said upon leaving the college in 1988. "I have no regrets, and there is nothing I would like to do over again." Several of his students created a scholarship in his name, as a farewell tribute.

Quinn was back on campus two years later when he was elected a trustee of the college. He campaigned for the office on a single issue -- diversity.

Calling attention to Santa Monica's changing demographics, he cited the increase in ethnic groups, new immigrants and single parents in the predominantly white middle-class city.

To respond to the change, he wanted the school to increase its vocational programs and offer more courses for students who needed retraining for new careers.

"The school now has a strong vocational program, called a technology program," Nat Trives told the Los Angeles Times this week. Trives and Quinn were friends for more than 50 years, and he was an administrator at Santa Monica College until 1997. "Al's mission was fulfilled."

Quinn was born in Omaha, one of four children. He was 13 when his father, the Rev. A.K. Quinn, was appointed a founding minister of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Santa Monica.

For the rest of his life, Quinn lived in Southern California, first in Malibu and later in Santa Monica. He graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1939 and taught in the public schools there through the 1950s as he was completing his graduate studies.

In 1943, he married Sylvia "Dottie" Pierce. They had one daughter, Jill Rene, who ran away from home in 1972. Weeks later, the 14-year-old's body was found in a Malibu canyon. She had been shot in the chest. The case was never solved.

Quinn's wife could not bear to live in Malibu after that, and the couple moved to Santa Monica. "It was pretty rough after she died," Quinn said.

"It made me realize we are all vulnerable to social problems, regardless of our status in life."

Friends said Quinn dealt with the experience by becoming more active in community affairs. He had already served as Santa Monica's commissioner of parks and recreation. He went on to become commissioner of housing; in that position, he was presented a community service award by the League of United Latin American Citizens. He retired from city government in 1983.

Quinn entered UCLA after serving in the Air Force and earned a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and a doctorate in sociology. He had his first taste of public school work as an undergraduate when he was director of recreation at Garfield Elementary in Los Angeles.

"Whether we were playing football or learning square dancing, he taught us to be competitive," said A.D. Williams, who first met Quinn on the Garfield playground when he was a student.

At the time of Quinn's retirement, Williams and other students reminisced about him in a Los Angeles Times article. Several of them said he was a mentor who helped them win scholarships or encouraged them to run for student offices. "He told us we could do anything anybody else could do, but we should do it with style," said Williams, who became a special-education teacher in Santa Monica.

Quinn is survived by his wife and his three sisters.

Funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica.

Donations can be made to the Al Quinn Scholarship Fund. Checks should be made out to SMC Foundation/Al Quinn Scholarship Fund and mailed to the SMC Foundation, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405.

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