John Joseph Dee, who coached St. John the Baptist High School football teams and worked as a fingerprint expert for the New York City Police Department, has died. He was 73.
The cause of death at the Venice Regional Medical Center in Florida was congestive heart failure, according to his son, Jimmy Dee of Holbrook. He died on his birthday, Nov. 16.
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“He was a proud veteran of the United States Navy, a retired detective in the NYPD and a retired dean of students at St. John the Baptist High School,” said John Dee, a police officer in Suffolk’s Seventh Precinct. “He was a man among men, a gentleman, and a gentle man. He was generous, a man of character and above all a true family man. I’ve done everything in my life to follow in his footsteps.”
Dee was born in Jackson Heights, Queens. The family moved to Flushing, where he in 1955 he met Arlene Gagen while they were students at the St. Andrew Avellino School.
“They were high school sweethearts,” said his son, John Dee of Holtsville. “It was a true love affair from a very young age.”
Dee graduated from Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School in 1960 and immediately joined the U.S. Navy on June 21 of that year.
“My father was proud of his country and proud to have served,” said John Dee.
Dee sailed on the USS Decatur and was part of the quarantine operation during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. After being discharged from the Navy he attended John Jay University, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
He married Gagen on April 4, 1964, and moved to Holtsville. They had six children and were married for 51 years. He was instrumental in setting up and coaching football, baseball and softball programs for the Suffolk County Police Athletic League.
He was a highly decorated officer who received two Combat Cross Medals, the NYPD’s second highest award, and retired in 1982 from the Queens Detective Squad.
Soon after retirement he became dean of students at St. John the Baptist in addition to his assistant coaching duties at the school.
“He loved coaching and mentoring young people,” said Jimmy Dee. “It was his life’s calling.”
In 1986, he became the head football coach at St. John the Baptist and his Cougars beat the top-ranked team in the country from Brockton, Massachusetts, 8-0. In the 1987 Catholic High School Football League playoffs he guided the Cougars to come-from-behind victories over St. Francis Prep, 14-13, and then undefeated St. Anthony’s, 12-11.
“He was absolutely a player’s coach,” said Rob Straub, who graduated from St. John the Baptist in 1987 and went on to wrestle at Old Dominion and now works as a sheriff’s deputy in Memphis, Tennessee. “Everyone was fiercely loyal to him. He was a father figure to many guys, especially to me. I had a lot of personal problems at home and he helped guide me through. He didn’t allow me to fall through the cracks.”
Besides his wife and sons, other survivors include daughter Catherine Pighini of Venice, Florida; and sons Terence of Holbrook and Daniel of Venice, Florida. Another daughter, Kerryanne Jessup, died on March 4.
Dee was buried with full military honors during a ceremony at Sarasota National Cemetery in Sarasota, Florida, on Dec. 12. A memorial service was held in New York.