May 12, 2007

There was a lot more to Bob Dean than football

A committed educator with a cultured side, ex-Esks star gave back to his community

By John MacKinnon,
Edmonton Journal

It may be true of some, perhaps many, pro athletes today that they form a class apart, separated from the eternal severities the rest of us tussle with by a sense of entitlement, by their celebrity, by their wealth.

Such was emphatically not the case for CFL players of the 1950s, including the three-time Grey Cup champion Eskimos and certainly not for Bob Dean, the 1954 Cup star who died Thursday at 77.

Not that financial considerations didn’t play a part in his football career. Money was a key factor in the University of Maryland graduate’s decision to head to Edmonton after playing one season for the NFL’s Washington Redskins.

Dean signed with the Eskimos for $6,100 a year, quite a hike from the $5,000 he earned with Washington.

“In those days, I could buy a car for about $1,100,” Dean once noted. “I could buy a new house for $19,000. So, given the times, it wasn’t that bad. It sounds kind of funny, but the money was good and we only worked three months of the year.

“The reason I came to Canada was because the money was better.”

The reason the Eskimos wanted Dean was because he had played the Split-T offence in college, just as Jackie Parker had at Mississippi State, just as quarterback Bernie Faloney had as Dean’s teammate at Maryland.

It was Rollie Miles, still living in Washington, D.C., during the off-season, who scouted Dean and Faloney and convinced them to move north to Edmonton.

The reason Dean retired from the CFL at age 26 and stayed in Edmonton, to marry Shirley, his wife of 51 years, to raise a family and fashion a post-football life was that he cared about community and was hardwired to get involved. Like so many of his teammates.

“Those guys (Miles, Dean, Johnny Bright, Art Walker) were cut from a different cloth,” said Dr. Marianne Miles, Rollie’s widow.

Like Miles, who retired to teach, to coach, to be a member of the 1978 Commonwealth Games board of directors, to be a principal with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, Dean’s post-football life was multi-faceted.

Dean taught in junior high and high school, coached football and volleyball, at which his teams were dominant, was principal at Victoria Composite High for six years and at M.E. LaZerte for another eight.

A graduate of the University of Maryland, who also earned a Bachelor of Education Degree and a Masters Diploma from the University of Alberta, Dean took a particular interest in those students who were likely to take a non-academic pathway to success.

“I guess his strongest commitment was for those kids who weren’t going to go on to university, weren’t going to go on to post-secondary,” said Svend Hansen, a public school board trustee, ex junior high principal and a golf partner of Dean’s at the Windemere Golf Club for more than 20 years. “As trustee and earlier as a school principal he wanted to ensure there were programs so those kids could get into the trades and services and have an opportunity for success in life.”

As fierce a competitor as Dean was on the field of play, he was equally formidable defending his positions on education at the school board level.

“If he felt it was the right thing for the kids, then that the was the way we needed to go and he made that point loud and clear,” Hansen said.

Once, as principal at M.E. LaZerte, Dean suspended a student for five days for organizing a rally during school hours in support of striking education workers. The student had breached a section of the School Act that read: “No person shall disturb or interrupt the proceedings of a school.”

For Dean, some things were simply inviolable.

“He was very good with kids,” Miles said. “He was a disciplinarian, but very fair.”

Or involved. When Mario Miles, one of Marianne’s sons, co-founded the Millwoods Grizzlies Minor Football Association in 1996, Dean pitched in to help the association grow from a handful of players to well over 100.

The ex-football star had a cultured side, as well.

“He was very supportive of sports, but he also liked the arts,” Miles said. “He played a violin. He and Shirley attended opera, musicals, the symphony. He appreciated music. A lot of people don’t know that side of him.

“He was tough, but underneath that he was just a baby, a little lamb. But he could push that toughness out. He was really a great educator.”

A memorial service for Bob Dean will be held Friday, May 18 at 2 p.m. at Robertson-Wesley United Church, 10209-123 Street.