Thomas Dickson III, 65, of Haddonfield, who loved and coached Haddonfield soccer, died Sunday, Feb. 28, from Lou Gehrig's disease.
After coaching his children in a variety of youth sports, Mr. Dickson, known as "Chip," became freshman soccer coach at Haddonfield Memorial High School in 2002. Even after he was diagnosed with ALS, he continued as a varsity assistant, eventually showing up in a wheelchair for practices and games. By that point, the lessons he taught were off the field as well as on.
"I can't imagine going through what he had to go through with more grace," said Haddonfield varsity soccer coach Ryan Nixon.
"He had this beautiful balance of being able to coach and challenge kids, but at same time you knew he cared very much," Nixon said.
His son, Thomas "T.D." Dickson IV, said his father "gave every kid a shot, no matter what, because of how much he loved the game. He deeply understood what the game can do for kids and what it can teach them."
"The sense of belonging that goes with being on a team was the biggest thing for him," said daughter Allegra Dickson. "And I think in many ways he treated our family like a team. That's very much why we're as close as we are."
Mr. Dickson had three children with his first wife, Gloria Mosconi Dickson, who died of breast cancer in 1998, when T.D. was 12 and their twin daughters were 9.
"After my mom died," said daughter Natalie Dickson, "my dad somehow managed to make us feel safe, loved, and happy when our lives were turned upside down. He wasn't happy himself, and I can't imagine the strength and courage it took for him to get out of bed and make his children feel their lives were normal."
"There was never a time when he put himself first," said T.D.
In 2002, Mr. Dickson married Becky Malcarney Dickson, raising her son, Joey, as his own.
"When Chip got sick," said Becky Dickson, "he told me, every day's a good day. That's how we're going to live. And that was his outlook to the end."
Joey Malcarney, 28, Mr. Dickson's stepson, said he learned the most important lessons just by watching, seeing how the man was never sad and never complained, and seeing how many people in the community cared about him.
"He had a good group of people around him," Malcarney said. "He really truly appreciated it."
Perhaps his oldest and best friend was his roommate from Hamilton College, Michael Murphy.
They came from opposite worlds - Mr. Dickson had attended boarding schools in New England, and Murphy was the first in his family to attend college. Murphy was an offensive lineman on the football team, and Mr. Dickson was a skinny midfielder on the soccer team.
"We just got along. It was ham and eggs. He was with the preppies and I was with the barbarians," Murphy said.
Murphy, who lives in New Hampshire, visited and called regularly. "His grace and honesty are a benchmark in my life," he said.
Mr. Dickson also loved his dogs, bichon frises, whom he named after baseball players, Tug (after Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw), Griffey (after Hall of Famer Ken Griffey), and Pokey, who died recently at 16 (after Cincinnati Reds infielder Pokey Reese).
"He asked for Pokey's ashes to be put in with his," said his wife.
Mr. Dickson, who was born in Bridgeton, N.J., worked for 25 years for the Prudential Insurance Co. of America in Linwood, N.J., and later for Cornerstone Records in Swedesboro.
In addition to his wife, son, daughters, and stepson, he is survived by two brothers and nieces and nephews.
A Funeral Mass was set for 11 a.m. Saturday, March 5, at Christ the King Catholic Church, 200 Windsor Ave., Haddonfield. A pickup soccer game in his memory will follow on the Haddonfield high school football field.
Contributions may be sent to the Chip Dickson Scholar Athlete Fund at TD Bank, 100 N. Haddon Ave., Haddonfield, N.J. 08033.