Special to The Dallas Examiner
Curtistene Smith McCowan was born Feb. 25, 1948, during a time when opportunities for African Americans were limited – especially Black women. Yet, that did not deter her from blazing historic trails in an effort to serve her community.
After graduating high school, she went on to Dallas Baptist University where she received a bachelor’s degree in business administration. During that time, she joined the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Afterward, she enrolled in El Centro College and earned an associate’s degree in business management.
She then took a position at the Federal Trade Commission in 1973. After 14 years, she rose to the position of senior investigator.
She and her husband, Leon R. McCowan, founded the Concerned DeSoto Citizens, a 501(c)3 non-profit community service organization in 1989. Since the organization was chartered, she has served as president and in numerous other leadership roles.
“We moved to DeSoto in 1977 with two young boys who attended DeSoto schools – who provide a high-quality education for each of them,” McCowan recalled during a recorded interview. “And so my husband and I started to get involved at that time, here in this community. I became the first African American to serve as PTA president. Then, I was encouraged to run for the school board.”
She made history again in 1990 when she ran for a DeSoto ISD Board of Trustees seat. When she won, she became the first African American in DeSoto to be elected to a public office. During her second and third year, she served as president. She also served on numerous committees as appointed by the Texas Association of School Boards from 1990-1997. She served on the Statewide Panel on Student Skills and Knowledge for the Texas Education Agency from 1993-94.
In 2000, she was elected as the charter president of the DeSoto ISD Education Foundation Board of Directors and has served on the executive committee since that time.
After more than 32 years of meritorious service, McCowan retired from the federal government, Jan. 1, 2005.
Later that year, in an effort to enhance her leadership skills, she enrolled in Leadership Southwest.
She later became a golden life member of Delta and has served in numerous elected and appointed leadership positions, including president of Dallas Alumnae Chapter from 1999 to 2001.
In recognition of her 30-plus years of volunteer service and commitment to education, the board of trustees voted unanimously in January 2007 to name a school in her honor.
“As I talk about service and my commitment to service – because that’s just who I am and this is very, very … I get emotional talking about it – little did I know that what I love to do and just overall serving my community, would result in the naming of a school in my honor,” McCowan said during an interview regarding the school’s dedication.
She went on to say that she was grateful to have lived long enough to witness the honor.
The Curtistene S. McCowan Middle School opened in August of that year. It was the second largest DeSoto ISD school.
“Mrs. McCowan is a rock star at MMS,” stated a representative during the opening. “When she walks in the door, the kids all point and smile and say, ‘There she is!’ as they run to hug her. It is an honor and a pleasure to have her be the namesake of our school.”
Described as a passionate advocate for quality education for all students, McCowan has made a significant contribution to the advancement of education at the local, state and national levels.
She served five years on the DeSoto Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors, where she held the positions of internal audit chair, vice president and served four years as president.
On Oct. 29, 2007, Gov. Rick Perry appointed McCowan to an unexpired term on the Texas Southern University Board of Regents. In 2009, he re-appointed her to a full six-year term – unanimously confirmed by the Texas Senate – where she served until May 2015. Positions held during her tenure as a TSU Regent included second vice chair of the board, chair of the Development and Legislative Committee and chair of the Administration and Finance Committee.
She ran for a seat on the DeSoto City Council and was elected in May 2012, serving as mayor pro tem from 2014 to 2016. While on the City Council, she chaired the Audit and Finance Committee.
In 2016, she made history again when she ran for mayor of DeSoto. Elected the city’s 21st mayor, she became the first woman to hold the position.
Until her death, she served on the executive boards of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Best Southwest; Partnership and the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition. In addition, she served as chair-elect of the Advisory Board for Methodist Charlton Medical Center and was a member of the planning committee for Methodist Health Systems of Dallas and the African American Education Archives and History Program Board of Directors.
McCowan was an active participant on the DeSoto ISD’s Advisory Council. She also participated in the district’s One-on-One Mentoring Program, the Discipline Management Committee and the McCowan Middle School’s Site-based Decision Making Committee. She was also an interview panelist for the prestigious Dr. Emmett J. Conrad Internship Program, sponsored by Texas State Senator Royce West.
“Whether or not I’m serving at the helm of an organization as its leader or just a member, I feel like it is my duty as a servant leader to do all I can while I can,” McCowan said during the interview. “Let us continue to serve while God gives us the opportunity. And let us do it together, because together there’s no limit to what we can accomplish.”
In October 2020, she revealed that she had been diagnosed and was battling lung cancer. She died Oct. 28 at the age of 72.
“Mayor McCowan leaves behind a legacy of hard work, commitment, dedication and action,” said Dr. D’Andre J. Weaver, DeSoto ISD Superintendent. “In every capacity, our beloved mayor taught us all what it means to exude excellence, to never settle for mediocrity and to set and carry out a vision for what is possible. Mayor McCowan taught us all to soar. She was a trailblazer, a way-maker and a glass-ceiling breaker who led with passion, empathy and expectation. The city of DeSoto and DeSoto ISD are significantly better because of her service and leadership.
“I will miss her tremendously. We spoke often, as Mayor McCowan was one of my biggest cheerleaders. She was always available for a word of advice or encouragement and for that, I am eternally grateful.”
Sources: DeSoto ISD, city of DeSoto and CurtisteneMcCowan.com