North Tahoe’s John Neary remembered for dedication to students, big heart |

North Tahoe’s John Neary remembered for dedication to students, big heart

Sylas Wright

John Neary, back row, middle, was a family man who enjoyed athletics and giving back to the community. He died Oct. 4. He was 66.

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The score could be 11-0. Even worse.

And there was North Tahoe High School Athletic Director John Neary, plopped on a seat in the front row, attentive, supportive, and not getting paid a dime — just making sure he was there for his student-athletes.

"He really cared about the kids," Jason Neary said of his father. "He was non judgmental, he had a huge heart and he always did what was in the best interest of the kids, whether or not it was in the school's policy. He was a no-nonsense guy, but his door was always open to them."

John Neary, who proudly served in multiple stints as principal, vice principal and athletic director within the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, died in his sleep from a heart attack in the early hours of Oct. 4. He was 66.

"The North Tahoe High School community is deeply saddened by John's passing. He was an incredible man and an eternal advocate for students," said North Tahoe High Principal Joanna Mitchell, adding that Lakers student-athletes honored Neary with a moment of silence during the boys soccer game against Truckee last Wednesday.

The Lakers are also wearing black armbands in competition in honor of their athletic director, while student-athletes will attend his celebration of life Thursday in uniform as a way to pay their respect.

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Mitchell said that Laura DesLauriers will take over for Neary as the Lakers' athletic director.

"I feel so personally fortunate to have benefited from John's influence at North Tahoe High School," Mitchell said. "He was an amazing colleague and an inspirational mentor. I will remember his booming laughter, his kind acts and his fierce dedication."

Friends and family remember the same characteristics.

Scott Everist, a longtime educator and coach at North Tahoe middle and high schools, said he fondly recalls Neary's willingness to provide everything he needed to perform his job.

"He always went out of his way to provide the faculty, staff and students with the very best," said Everist, who first met Neary when he started teaching at North Tahoe Middle School in the 1990s, when Neary was principal. "John always had an open-door policy and loved to help solve problems. I already miss having him here on campus."

Jason, the oldest of Neary's two sons, shed light on his father's life outside of his career. He said he was a man of many passions, which included volunteer work in the community — particularly the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe and the Humane Society of Tahoe-Truckee — theatre and music, animals, sports, travel, and, most of all, his family.

And while his body and voice were big, his spirit was as gentle as there was.

"He was such a big, burly, foul-mouthed guy — a typical old football guy. But he was such a soft, gentle person," said Jason, who works for the North Lake Tahoe Convention and Visitors Bureau. "That's what I'll remember, is just this loud, big character. But he was a true gentle giant. He had a big bear exterior but was a marshmallow inside.

"Another thing about my dad is that he saw everybody the same. If you were a millionaire who lived on the lake or someone who lived in a small trailer, he saw you the same. He saw the intrinsic value in people and things, and he didn't judge anybody. He was just happy to be, and he died a happy man."

Neary's youngest son, Sean, said he'll remember his father for his steadfast dedication to helping his students, regardless of any constraints from above.

"In his career, he worked in the best interest of the students, not necessarily the adults. It was not a path without conflict. But he put the kids first, and he never regretted it," Sean said.

Jason added that the entire Neary family is thankful to the North Lake Tahoe community for its support: "They've rallied around us, and I know it's helped me get through something I didn't think I could ever get through."

A celebration of life will be held at the North Tahoe Events Center in Kings Beach on Thursday at 4 p.m.