Postal service anthrax victims are mourned

One Brentwood worker active in community, the other `very private'

War On Terrorism

Anthrax Scare

October 24, 2001|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Joseph P. Curseen Jr. wasn't one to miss work - not even after passing out Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Church in Clinton.

The 47-year-old postal worker, who had been feeling ill since Oct. 16, reported for duty as scheduled Saturday night at the Brentwood postal facility in northeast Washington.

"He never took a sick day off in 15 years until he got ill the other day," said his father, Joseph Curseen Sr., himself a retired postal worker.

The younger Curseen, who lived in Clinton, was one of two postal workers from Prince George's County to die of inhalational anthrax this week.

The other victim, Thomas L. Morris, 55, of Suitland, died Sunday night at Greater Southeast Hospital in Washington.

Both had worked at the Brentwood facility, which authorities suspect handled an anthrax-tainted letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office.

In a telephone interview yesterday, the elder Curseen spoke proudly of his son.

"He was ... much loved," the father said. "We're all going to miss him terribly. I think everyone who knew him would agree he was an exceptional person."

Curseen said his son started feeling ill Oct. 16 and thought he had a bad cold. According to a close friend and neighbor, he ended up in the Southern Maryland Hospital Center emergency room that day.

The neighbor, James N. Watlington, said he and his wife had been in Ocean City for the week and did not return until Sunday night.

"I'm still in shock," Watlington said. "To have this happen is just terrible."

Watlington, who is 84, said he and his wife were like another set of parents to Curseen and his wife, whom they liked very much.

"He was honest and straight up," Watlington said. "Anything he can do for you, he'll do it. No question."

For example, he said, Curseen had insisted on pruning a large tree in Watlington's back yard to prevent the older man from risking injury by climbing a 24-foot ladder to do the chore.

Watlington and Curseen had lived five doors from each other since the mid-1980s.

Watlington was a former vice president of the neighborhood civic association; Curseen was the association's president at the time of his death.

Curseen and his wife, who is an office secretary, were married for 15 years. They had no children.

He was a eucharistic minister at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Southeast Washington and he often attended St. John the Evangelist, both Catholic churches.

The elder Curseen, 71, who lives with his wife in Southeast Washington, retired from the Postal Service in 1989. His last assignment was handling mail at the White House.

Curseen said his son started working for the Postal Service just before he got married.

"He went to Marquette University in Milwaukee and graduated from there," Curseen said. "He met his wife there. She's from Milwaukee."

Celeste Curseen said her husband's studies were in the human resource and personnel management fields.

"It's just hard, you know," she said. "It's just shocking. I'm getting help from neighbors, family, the church and the people we work with."

At the Suitland apartment of the other victim, Thomas L. Morris Jr., family members said yesterday that they did not want to talk about his loss.

"He was a very private person in life, and in death we would like to keep it this way," said Kathy L. Carter, niece of Morris' wife, Mary.

"They were a very loving Christian couple," the niece said. "They married late in their lives, on May 1, 1990."

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