Joseph Hawkins knew the power of a good tip. But his tip wasn’t information. It was currency.
“It was common for a server to come back to the table,” said Hawkins’ daughter, Katie Hawkins-Gaar of Atlanta. “And they’d always say, ‘Thank you’. But the first question was often if the tip was correct, you know? If he meant to give them that much.”
Hawkins-Gaar said she remembers dining with her father in East Atlanta when the woman who’d been serving their table walked up, almost in tears.
“She said, ‘Thank you so much, I can make my rent now.’ And I will never forget that,” his daughter said.
Hawkins, an Army kid born in Fort Hood, Texas, believed it was his duty to generously tip people in the service industry, said Janet Hawkins, his wife of more than 33 years.
“I was so impressed with how generous he was and that was when we were dating,” she said. “He generally tipped between 30 and 40 percent of the bill. And if it was a place where he knew the server, it was often more.”
Joseph Brent Hawkins of Ellenwood died Friday of complications from cancer. He was 58.
A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. on Saturday at Columbia Presbyterian Church, Decatur. A.S. Turner & Sons Funeral Home is in charge of cremation arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, the family is encouraging people to “leave a generous tip at their restaurant or bar of choice,” his daughter said. “It is just what he would have wanted.”
Hawkins-Gaar said her father’s commitment to such generosity while on a teacher’s salary was not lost on her.
“Both of my parents were teachers,” she said. “So it couldn’t have been easy.”
At the time of his death, Hawkins was an art teacher at Stockbridge Middle School, where he was voted teacher of the year, his daughter said, for the third time in his more than 25-year career. Hawkins was also a finalist for Henry County teacher of the year.
“He was teacher of the year at three different schools,” Hawkins-Gaar said. “The first time was in 1993, the second was in 2003 and then this one in 2013. Many of the younger teachers he worked with thought of him as a mentor and we’ve heard so many stories this week.”
A former Army medic, Hawkins moved to Atlanta from New Orleans in 1988, when he got a job teaching art in Atlanta Public Schools, his wife said. Art was central to his life and he chose to teach because it was a way to share his talent and receive a steady paycheck, she said.
Erica Jamison, executive director of MINT, a non-profit arts organization, said Hawkins was a generous contributor to her organization.
“It is almost indescribable how he gave without expecting anything in return,” she said. “He and his wife gave because it was important to them. It was amazing.”
Hawkins’ daughter said the artist taught more than good tipping habits; he taught life lessons. When he felt moved to dance, he danced with reckless abandon. Hawkins-Gaar said she and her brother, Rory, learned to appreciate their father’s understanding of life.
“When we were younger, we’d be embarrassed, but as we got older we understood he was just being himself,” she said. “He was always himself and he taught me to truly be myself, no matter what anybody thought.”
In addition to his wife and children, Hawkins is survived by several extended family members.