Joseph Dawson worked hard to raise his 12 children on the Charleston’s Eastside
Dinnertime was conference time at the Dawson household. Joseph Dawson would arrive on the break between his day and evening jobs. Precious moments would be spent with his wife and children.
Over the years, it was the time set aside for his 12 children to say what happened at school and during their activities. It also was prime time for them to ask questions and for him to give answers.
“That’s when we got our ‘Lessons to be learned’ talks,” says Barbara Dilligard, former deputy Charleston County Public Schools superintendent. Dilligard, third among Dawson’s 12 children, says her father’s guidance usually was delivered as a story.
Dawson, a Charleston Naval Shipyard and Safety Cab Company worker, was a great storyteller, Dilligard says. He’d share stories from his youth, a friend, even a passenger in his cab, to make a point.
He’d end his stories about the perils of lying, one of his pet peeves, by saying “You might get by, but you won’t get away” to make it more memorable.
Dawson was born in Awendaw on May 10, 1921, and died June 28.
He was preceded in death by a son, Ricky Dawson.
Joseph and wife Bessie Manigault Dawson raised their family on Charleston’s Eastside.
They raised them in the 1960s when kids played hop scotch, made dolls with soda bottles and thought outdoor play was better than indoor.
Sometimes, Dawson would take them to visit extended family in Awendaw. Every Sunday, he took them to church.
“While he only had a third- grade education, he was quite intellectual,” Dilligard says. Education was important to him, and all of his children received some type of training after high school.
“He learned about what was going on in the world from talk radio,” she says. As he listened while driving cabs, he learned the different arguments about the issues of the day.
As he heard the discussions, he would evaluate whether the points made lined up with his personal beliefs.
He was not without the ability to see humor in things, rather radio discussions or something that happened at home.
Dawson, a Duke Ellington fan, treasured his 78 RPM vinyl records. But he came home one day to find many destroyed by his children. They had broken them trying to emulate contestants on “Beat the Clock,” a ’50s and early ’60s television show where participants were challenged to accomplish tasks within a certain time.
Though listening to jazz was won of the few things he did just for him, the mental image of his children racing to beat the clock was funny, so he just laughed, Dilligard says.
“I always knew he loved me,” Dilligard says. “I came from a large family, but always felt like I could be an only child. I can’t ever remember a time when I needed something and they didn’t try to provide that.”
Her parents always catered to the children’s needs, but never their wants, she says. And they always told them the reason behind their decisions.
“They talked to us in a way we understood,” she says.
Ralph Dawson, the fourth child, misses having his father phone to ask: What have you done today? Have you done anything good today?”
The younger Dawson, who practices law in Manhattan with Norton Rose Fulbright (better known as Fulbright and Jaworski), says he misses the discussions he and his father had.
“I miss that exchange.”
Dawson and his dad were engaged in ongoing political discussions over the past decade as the younger worked on the presidential campaigns of Howard Dean and Barack Obama.
The father liked being kept up to date on the campaigns and was thrilled by having his son introduce him to Dean, a classmate at Yale.
“A lot of his living, in a sense, had to be vicarious. The day-to-day joys of life, he got a lot of that from talking to his children.”
He believed they could accomplish anything they wanted to in life.
“He was always optimistic about that. He took a lot of pride in seeing us do well.”
One of the things the son learned from watching his dad was that someone could be a leader and influence others, even when that was not technically true.
“My father had a unique way of listening, honing in on what was important and speaking up at the right time.
“In that sense he could always emerge as a leader. He never thought that academic equaled intelligence.
“He was short in statue, but a giant of a man in a lot of ways,” Dawson says.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.