MILLVILLE — This week would have been just around the time that John F. Dean Sr. would dye his trademark white beard green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. It was a springtime tradition that would often turn the heads of passing motorists while Dean, looking like an over-sized leprechaun, was out with his highway crews filling potholes.
Today, rather, it was a somber mood in Millville, as friends and family mourned the passing of 78-year-old Dean, a lifelong resident of Millville and longtime town highway surveyor, who died Tuesday at Landmark Medical Center after a brief illness.
“John had a great sense of humor and loved a good joke. That was the Irish in him,” said Millville Fire Chief John J. Mullaly. “Every day was St. Patrick’s Day for John.”
“John Dean was an icon,” the chief added. “He was one of the driving forces behind the building of our current fire station back in 1971, which was funded at no cost to the taxpayers. If there was anything major going on in town, John was involved. He was just a good guy. Even if he disagreed with you politically, he never talked bad about you. He always had something good to say about everyone.”
“John was a true patriarch and he’ll surely be missed by everyone in the community,” added Millville Police Chief Ronald Landry. “He was always accommodating and willing to help anyone. I enjoyed his stories and admired his commitment to the town of Millville, which he loved so much. He was simply a good friend and I’ll miss him.”
Dean gave more than 60 years of service to the town he loved.
Not only was he the town’s highway surveyor for more than 20 years, he served just as long as a trustee of the Soldiers Memorial
Park and was a member of the Millville Recreational League and Blackstone-Millville Recreational League and Millville Democratic Town Committee. He was also the town’s flag warden, a former town health agent and special police officer; and a lifelong parishioner at St. Augustine’s Church in Millville.
Dean served as a fundraiser for more than 50 years, raising tens of thousands of dollars for the Millville Little League, Millville Fire Station, Millville Free Public Library, St. Augustine Church and the town’s 50th and 75th anniversary celebrations.
Millville Historical Commission Chairwoman Margaret Carroll called Dean a “community activist, humanitarian, humorist, mentor, good samaritan,
prankster, volunteer, contributor, problem solver and true friend to many.”
Said Carroll: “The 1998 annual town report was dedicated to John with the following descriptive words by Abraham Lincoln: ‘Let us have faith that right makes might and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.’ John F. Dean Sr. personified those words throughout his lifetime.”
Dean worked for the railroad for many years and then joined the Millville Fire Department in 1961, retiring as captain. He was a day laborer for the town highway department for several years and in 1992 he was elected as highway surveyor.
An avid baseball and Red Sox fan, Dean founded the Millville Little League in 1952, and was its coach from 1953 to 1956, and again from 1959 to 1963. He was the Babe Ruth coach from 2003 to 2007. Every spring Dean would help organize and march in the league’s spring opening day parade, a tradition that continues to this day.
On June 1, 1997, the field at the Millville Elementary School grounds was dedicated as the John F. Dean Sr. Little League Field in honor of Dean’s dedication to an organization he supported for 59 years.
“We were old-time buddies and grew up together,” said childhood friend Robert K. Bowen, who along with Dean co-founded the Millville Lions Club in 1971. “I was president and John was vice president. But John was our fundraiser. He was a real go-getter. Whenever we had programs or fundraisers we put John on it because he could squeeze a nickel out of anyone.”
“We’d get together at least once a week for coffee and to talk about things,’” Bowen said. “He was a great guy and one-of-kind. No one loved the town of Millville more than John. He held this town in his heart and he wouldn’t put up with anyone, in public office or otherwise, who desecrated Millville. He will be greatly missed.”
“He loved three things,’’ said Ray Anderson, a close friend and fellow Soldiers Memorial Park Trustee, “his wife, Betty, the Town of Millville, and the Boston Red Sox.”
“John was good ball player himself in his younger days when he played for the old Carney league in Woonsocket,” said Anderson, who served with Dean on the Fire Department. “He loved baseball all his life and he was very involved with the Millville Little League.”
Carroll said Dean cared deeply for veterans. Dean himself was an Army veteran serving in Germany from 1956 to 1958.
“A veteran himself, John honored every fellow veteran through his devotion to the American Flag, always flown at half-mast at the time of a veteran’s death,” she said. “Flags of many veterans are flown at Soldiers Memorial Park on their birthdays.”
Dean cared, too, about the town’s elderly population.
“If the seniors couldn’t get down to the highway barn to get sand in the winter, he would deliver it right to their door step,” Anderson said. “A lot of towns don’t even provide sand anymore. And if they do, how many highway surveyors do that?”
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the death of John Dean,” said Millville Executive Secretary Helen Coffin. “As executive secretary, I spent a great deal of time with John at the Town Hall over the past several years. I consider him a dear friend and will always remember how he loved telling me stories of days gone by. John was always able to make me laugh and always knew the right thing to say.”
“John took particular pride in his position as highway surveyor for the Town of Millville and his love for the town was quite evident,” Coffin added. “John was truly a warm and genuine person and will be deeply missed by us all.”
As the town’s highway surveyor - an elected position he held unchallenged since 1992 - Dean was was responsible for 25 miles of town-owned roads. Despite his age, Dean would be out in the thick of it with his crews replacing storm drains, maintenance sidewalks and bridges, sweeping streets, blacktopping, and overseeing the town’s snow plowing and sanding.
“To say that John was a great man is an understatement; going above and beyond was the way he operated daily,” said Millville Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Jackie Lima. “The Town of Millville is forever indebted to the numerous contributions this remarkable man made over many decades of service. John was never too busy to stop and look at a project, prepare a plan to get something fixed, call upon resources to get jobs done and most importantly to make time for residents’ concerns.”
“One of John’s best attributes that our town benefited from daily was his pure and simple love of Millville - he did his best for our town every day,” Lima added. “It is no surprise that John was re-elected term after term to his position as highway surveyor. He rightfully gained and held the confidences of the residents in Millville based on his
successful track record in his position.”
In 2009, more than 100 residents, family members and wellwishers turned out for a ceremony to dedicate the newly-completed Central Street Bridges in his honor and to officially name the bridge the “John F. Dean Bridges.”
Dean spent years tirelessly advocating and working towards the new bridge system, working with the Massachusetts Highway Department for over a decade in identifying the deterioration of the Millville Bridge system, assisting with the subsequent redesign and reconstruction process, and working with state legislators to secure the necessary funding for the $6 million project, which connects the two sides of the town.
In 2008, when the town asked its residents to vote on a name for the new bridge. It didn’t surprise anyone that the name that received the most votes was the John F. Dean Bridges.
The bridge project, which began in 2003 and was completed in 2008, consists of five separate bridge segments throughout downtown Millville. It was Dean who first sounded the alarm about the deteriorating Central Street Bridge back in 1995. He was the driving force to get the bridge on the state’s list for rehabilitation more than 15 years ago.
“John Dean was truly ‘Mr. Millville,” noted state Sen. Richard T. Moore (D-Uxbridge). “There was no one more dedicated to the town or who worked harder for the townspeople. His dedication to his work and to the youth of the community is legendary and he will surely be missed.”
“I just know that John Dean left his imprint not only on every street in town but on so many people who lived along those streets. He was a good friend to them,” said Carroll. “John was a presence where ever he was. He knew his beloved hometown in a way that nobody else I ever met knew it. He was never very far away from Millville. And John Dean will always be part of Millville.”
Dean is survived by his wife of 52 years, Betty; two sons, James Dean and John Dean Jr.; three daughters, Marybeth Gervais, Jane Bonin, Caroline Dale and Jennifer Dean Wing; 10 grandchildren; and a great grandchild.
Calling hours are Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. at Buma Funeral Home, 101 North Main St., Uxbridge. A funeral Mass will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. in St. Augustine’s Church, 17 Lincoln St., Millville.