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Beloved Catholic schools teacher, coach dies at 59

Antoine J. "Tony" Damouny, 59, a revered figure among students, adults and clergy in the St. Paul Catholic School community, has died in Israel.

Six months ago, he left on what friends hoped was a life-saving trip to begin treatment by a specialist at Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital. He died Friday (Feb. 17, 2006) after a battle against Hodgkins Lymphoma, his wife, Bette, said.

For almost a quarter century, he taught and coached for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, starting at the old St. Joseph's School and then at St. Paul for more than 20 years.

He coached most of the teams at St. Paul, which is for youngsters through Grade 8. St. Paul has been known as a south county private school power. Basketball and soccer trophies fill its case.

"He was just a wonderful, very caring man," said Sister Joan Carberry, the school's assistant principal who had known him since 1988, Tuesday. "He was very committed to his job as a physical education teacher. He was like a father to many children from single-parent families."

Mr. Damouny also coached soccer league teams locally. As a young man, he played soccer; when he was older, he was a fan of British soccer teams. He also played tennis on teams at the Racquet Club of St. Petersburg.

A noted cook, he especially enjoyed making Middle Eastern food; his specialty was hummus. At St. Paul's annual spring festival, he operated the Greek booth and made the food for it.

Born in Palestine (now Israel), he arrived in United States in 1971. After receiving a bachelor of science degree from the University of River Falls, Wis., he joined Volunteers in Service to America and was sent to the Tampa Bay area.

An outdoorsman, for years he canoed in Canada with friends from days he spent in Minnesota. He spoke Arabic, Hebrew and English.

Survivors in addition to his wife include a son, Joseph; and two brothers, Elias, Haifa, Israel, and Beshara, Seattle.

Funeral arrangements were pending Tuesday.