Deborah Curtis, a popular history teacher at Waynflete School for more than three decades, died Monday after battling cancer. She was 64.

Debba Curtis, as everyone called her, taught history, U.S. government and a popular Constitution class. She was also a student adviser and worked with Waynflete’s theater and mock trial programs.

“Without question, Waynflete is as diminished by her loss as it was enriched by her participation in it,” Head of School Geoff Wagg said in a letter to the school community. “There is simply no way to adequately describe how much she meant to generations of students as a teacher, director and adviser. Her classes were always lively and engaging, thought-provoking and inspiring.”

Before teaching, Curtis worked as an assistant district attorney in New York City in the 1970s.

She moved to Portland and began teaching at Waynflete in 1984. She was a popular teacher, known for her enthusiasm for history, law, music and theater, colleagues said.

Lowell Libby, director of the upper school, said Curtis touched a lot of lives through the years, sharing her passions for law and the Constitution with her students.

“It was agonizing for her not to be teaching with everything happening in the country,” Libby said. “She would have loved to be on campus, talking about all the issues in the news. She made learning very powerful. She did a lot of work connecting what students were studying to what is happening today.”

Her second love was theater, especially musicals by Gilbert and Sullivan and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and directed several over the years.

“She could really get the kids fired up,” Libby said.

Ms. Curtis was remembered by her two sons Wednesday as a strong and fiercely independent woman who overcame many adversities with grace and humor.

Ms. Curtis began to lose her eyesight in her early 40s, and had relied on seeing-eye dogs for the past several years. But her failing vision never stopped her from living a full life, they said.

Ms. Curtis traveled, walked to work, directed plays, sang in a choir, raised her sons and was a voracious reader, holding books close to her face as her vision worsened.

Her son Ned Donovan, a professional actor living in New York City, shared stories Wednesday about the impact she had on students. Donovan said his mother introduced him to theater and was his cheerleader.

“She was an extremely supportive mom,” Donovan said. “She gave me the tools and confidence to grow on my own terms and was there to help when I needed her. She was a nurturer. Everything was a teaching moment.”

Another son, Will Donovan, noted his mother’s energy and spirit. He said she traveled to Paris, London, Washington, D.C., and Dubai.

“I was always very impressed by her ability to stay on the path despite anything,” her son said. “She was steadfast. She always stayed strong in the face of everything she went through.”

Ms. Curtis was diagnosed with cancer about 14 months ago and stopped teaching last year. She lived her last months in Small Point, where she spent summers all her life.

About two weeks ago, she visited her old classroom at Waynflete and met with students and colleagues.

“The room was packed with students,” Libby said. “It was incredibly powerful.”

Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MelanieCreamer

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