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Hernando educator Thomas Deen known for his bird dogs

BROOKSVILLE — Thomas "Bird Dog" Deen liked to get up before dawn, take his children and a pack of English pointers deep into the Hernando woods before dawn and wait.

Before long, the call of quail trilled high in the trees.

"You could hear them whistling," said Earl Deen, 57, Mr. Deen's son.

His wife, Dorothy, later fried the birds, seasoning them first with flour, salt and pepper, and served the dish with rice and gravy and buttermilk biscuits.

"I liked it better than I thought I would," said Lorenzo Hamilton, a retired football coach at Hernando High School, where Mr. Deen served as assistant principal from 1961 to 1973.

Mr. Deen, an administrator for the better part of 38 years with the Hernando County school system, died Feb. 24 after a short illness. He was 83.

His skill at training bird dogs earned him a following and a nickname. At his funeral Monday, friends and family remembered what he made of his birth name.

He grew up in Mississippi, a farmer's son who dropped out of high school to help save his father's cotton crop. He played football in college and believed in a strong handshake.

"He'd said, 'Don't try to overpower them but let them know you're a steady person,' " said son Earl, the principal of Pine Grove Elementary. "Your handshake says a lot about you."

He served as principal of Moton Elementary, Brooksville Primary and Hernando County's Adult Education Center before joining Hernando High as the school's first assistant principal. In an era of corporal punishment, liberally applied, Mr. Deen preferred reasoning with students.

"You might be in his office today in trouble. Tomorrow, you might be out there hunting with him," said former Hernando High student Tom Varn, now the assistant principal of Nature Coast Technical High.

Mr. Deen was proud of his Southern roots. If you knew him, you knew he was from Mississippi and that he loved hunting quail. He was loyal to his friends.

"Even though it might have been unpopular for him to be my friend at the time, he never wavered from that," said Hamilton, who is black, of the white Deen. Hamilton came to Hernando High as area schools were being integrated.

Earl Deen learned the lessons his father taught.

"Don't lie. Do the right thing. Be the kind of friend people won't be ashamed to claim. Be the kind of person who would walk across the street to shake somebody's hand and not hide from them. If it's not yours, don't mess with it."

When he sits down to eat, he repeats Mr. Deen's blessing:

Kind father, pardon our sins. Make us thankful for these and all other blessings that we receive from thee. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (717) 892-2248.

. BIOGRAPHY

Thomas Earl Deen Sr.

Born: April 18, 1925.

Died: Feb. 24, 2009.

Survivors: wife Dorothy; daughter Lynn Hamon; sons Earl and Greg Deen; brother Olan Deen; sister Pam Rimby; and numerous nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

Hernando educator Thomas Deen known for his bird dogs 03/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 11:45pm]
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