A Local Life: Alan L. Dean, 92, the 'Ideal Father'

By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 5:54 PM

There was stiff competition in 1955 to win The Washington Post's annual "Ideal Father" contest.

The nominees included a Federal Reserve Board economist who "gives blood to the Red Cross," and a State Department official whose son wrote in a letter that "when I was in the hospital with Polio, my dad was by my side [and] stayed by my side until I got well again."

But the winner was Alan L. Dean, the father of two daughters who told The Post that their dad "combines the qualities of civic leader, bricklayer, fruit grower, songleader, storyteller and camp counselor."

Mr. Dean, who as a young father regaled his daughters with passages from Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" in Middle English and fed the girls plump blueberries from the back yard, died of a brain aneurysm Dec. 2 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County. He was 92.

To qualify a dad for the competition, which The Post sponsored for many years until 1957, children had to write a letter to the newspaper and outline why their nominee was the best in the Washington area.

The Post reported that Mr. Dean's daughters, 10-year-old Claudia and 6-year-old Diana, had run "breathlessly into the news room one hour before the contest deadline." Unbeknown to their father, Mr. Dean's daughters had arrived at The Post just in time "to make their Dad a dark horse winner."

Claudia wrote in her letter that "our Daddy is funny."

"Sometimes he sings songs," she wrote before noting parenthetically that "his voice is terrible."

Mr. Dean's prize from The Post was a Father's Day dinner at the Statler Hotel, tickets to a showing of "Soldier of Fortune" starring Clark Gable and a bronze-engraved plaque.

Mr. Dean remained modest about being named the ideal dad of 1955. He told The Post that "my daughter should be called letter-writer of the year."

Alan Loren Dean was born July 27, 1918, in Portland, Ore. He was a 1941 graduate of Reed College in Portland and received a master's degree in public administration from American University in 1955.

He began his federal government service in 1941 at the old War Department before joining the Bureau of the Budget, where he helped draft the National Aeronautics and Space Act, the charter for NASA. He served on the Arlington County Board in the 1950s.

In 1960 he joined the Federal Aviation Administration as an associate administrator, where he was a principal adviser on organization and management.

Mr. Dean was honored in 1965 as a top civil servant by President Lyndon Johnson at a White House ceremony in the Rose Garden.

Two years later, President Johnson appointed Mr. Dean to be the first assistant secretary of the new Department of Transportation. He retired from government work in 1979.

Survivors include his wife of 67 years, Vera Sisson Dean of Arlington; three daughters, Claudia "Vicki" Lewis of Bethesda, Diana Dean of Arlington and Laura Salvay of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.; and nine grandchildren.

"Children seem to think an ideal father should be a source of kind encouragement, ice cream, candy and baseball games," Mr. Dean said in 1956. "There's more to being a father than that."

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