Derry Dunn: school honors longtime educator, judge
Photo: Orange County Justice of the Peace Derry Dunn, 71, a member of Houston Baptist University’s first graduating class, will be a guest speaker Saturday for the school’s commencement ceremonies.
Dave Rogers – For The Record
The modest wall in Judge Derry Dunn’s office displays plaques detailing awards and appreciations the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace has garnered during a long service to his community.
“I thought that Good Samaritan award up there was the last honor I’d probably get,” Dunn said. “But this one tops them all.”
Dunn, 71, is going to his 50th college reunion this weekend at Houston Baptist University and will be speaking to the 2017 graduates at Saturday’s commencement ceremonies.
The Mauriceville native and former Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School principal was a member of HBU’s first graduating class, in 1967, and won the President’s Award as the top male student.
“I consider it a real honor that out of all those people in this class, they picked me,” Dunn said.
He said there were 67 in his HBU graduating class and he recalls the campus “was kind of out in the middle of the rice fields” and he had to walk half a mile “across this muddy rice field” from his dorm to class each day.
And Houston was certainly the big city compared to Mauriceville, where there had been 14 in his high school graduating class.
Dunn, 6 feet, 3 inches tall, went through college on an basketball scholarship, first for two years at Panola Junior College in Carthage, then two years at HBU.
He and older brother Andy had helped Mauriceville High reach the state semifinals during Dunn’s sophomore year. They played at the University of Texas’ Gregory Gym, which the judge swears “held more people than there are in all of Orange County.”
He says he’d never heard of HBU until he was offered what turned out to be the school’s first-ever athletics scholarship in 1965.
“I’d been offered scholarships a lot of places but they were all small towns,” Dunn said. “I decided I wanted to open my eyes to the big city. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
After graduating from HBU with a bachelors in biology/chemistry, Dunn went into teaching, at Houston Waltrip High School.
Four years later, Uncle Sam interrupted his career in education.
“I won the first draft lottery” during the final years of the Vietnam War, he said. “The day I got drafted, I joined the Air Force.”
And then he was assigned to what sounds like the most interesting of occupations – as a Russian-language interpreter working for the National Security Administration during the Cold War.
He said his two years of studying German in school marked him for the job. After 15 months of Russian linguistic training, he began a daily routine listening to audio tapes of conversations intercepted from around the world.
“My job was to listen to Russian pilots,” said Dunn, who carried a top secret clearance and can’t, by law, provide many details.
“I worked in basic data collection. Everything we did went up to analysts and they probably threw everything away.
“It sounds a lot more exciting than it really was. But I never got shot at.”
After his four-year hitch in the Air Force was up, Dunn turned down an invite to join the NSA as a civilian and went back to schools. He taught biology and chemistry four years for the Beaumont school district, then began a 24-year tenure with the LCM district.
He began there as a teacher, then spent nine years as assistant principal and principal at Mauriceville Middle School and 10 as LCM High School principal.
Along the way, Dunn grew a family of teachers and doctors.
His wife Jane teaches at LCM High School, daughter Julie teaches in Rockwall, a Dallas suburb, and step-daughter Sarah teaches at Mauriceville Middle School. Son Mark and step-son Phil are MDs in Oregon and Arizona, respectively, and son Todd is a psychologist (Ph.D.) in Utah.
He lives on Mauriceville land that’s been in the family since his grandfather came to Orange County in 1908.
Dunn’s retirement from education came on Dec. 31, 2002. On New Year’s Day, he took office as JP of Precinct 2.
“I was retired for eight hours,” he likes to say.
JPs have a multitude of tasks they must perform, everything from adjudicating traffic violations to performing death investigations.
Dunn likes weddings.
“JPs do a lot more than weddings, but that’s the funnest part of the job,” he said.
He recently performed his 1,000th wedding.
“Probably 80 percent of people who come to JPs are here for their second or third marriage,” he said. “Or they’re people who’ve lived together for a while.
“I had a wedding for a couple that had been together for 30 years with their grown children and grandchildren there.”
The June 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriages nationally boosted Dunn’s business by default.
“After that hit, for a long time I was the only one [judge] in the county doing weddings,” he said. “Several are back to doing weddings now.”
But Dunn checked his numbers: From an average of 50 to 60 weddings per year, he jumped to 123 weddings in 2015 and 175 weddings in 2016.
He says only about 10 of those were same-sex unions.
Dunn is counting the days to retirement. He says when his current JP term expires at the end of 2018, he’s calling it quits.
“I’ve got some land, cows and fruit trees,” he said. “I’ll be 73 when I retire, but I would have worked 52 years. It’s time to retire.”