How do you embellish something or someone that cannot be exaggerated? How do you describe a rainbow to someone who cannot see nor has a reference point for colour? That’s how I feel when I try to tell others about David John De Groot – never mind trying to state what he meant to me. That is beyond words; impossible.

Dave & Steve

This April Newsletter is dedicated to my identical twin brother, Dave. We were born in April. What does Dave have to do with Getting to Better? Absolutely everything. If you knew Dave for a minute, a month or a year, your life would be better; either just a little (smile, laughter, good feeling) or a lot (something would be started, accomplished, created, fixed, gained, solved).

Once when I was asked to describe words that characterized Dave, I could not stop writing. I eventually paused and said, “Take all of the ‘bad’ words out of the dictionary.” That’s a good start. I know. It sounds embellished or too hard to grasp; to believe. Just ask someone who had the privilege and honour of knowing him. Dave was great at what seemed like almost everything. He wouldn’t tell you that; however, other people would. But that’s not what made him great. What made him great is that he wanted “great” for others, not for himself. All that he was, all that he did was to make the lives of other people better. And not just once in awhile either. For Dave, it seemed like a daily value orientation, which for him came naturally. This is not to say that everything came easy to or for him. Dave, along with his many other attributes, had an unparalleled work ethic.

Dave wore many hats and had many roles. There was a reason for this; you can’t effect change when you are sitting still. Dave was engaged always in all ways; as a son, brother, friend, husband, father, uncle, cousin, neighbour, student, worker, coach, teacher, Principal. Regardless of his role or responsibility Dave lived, loved and above all laughed. Life was supposed to be fun and exciting! And when it wasn’t, it was his job to make it fun and exciting, or at least funny. Dave wanted good things for everybody. He wanted to be the good, find the good or build the good. Even in the most difficult of circumstances he would do either of those, sometimes with simple ease and other times with desperate diligence.

He had a way of disarming people and situations, putting them at ease with a half smile, gesture, joke, story or slush (slurpee). And that was usually the beginning of something better.

You would never see Dave on the sidelines. He was always engaged in the “game of life”. And he would do what he could to engage others. “The more the merrier” and “why not” were two things that Dave would say. He approached everything and everyone as an experience to be enjoyed. His enthusiasm, another spectacular attribute, was uncontained and contagious. He was always ready for a race, a wrestle, a tree to climb, a person to build up or disarm, or a problem to help with. Life was a set of challenges to be embraced, experienced and learned from. Why climb a tree, if you’re only going to go halfway? Why would ice on the lake be a deterrent for swimming in it? Why climb 90 feet up the face of a mountain and merely jump when you can do a back flip? Why not offer ANYTHING we can that will keep kids in school? Why not shovel a hill 17 feet high and 45 feet in circumference, with a small scoop, so that my children and their friends can have a winter wonderland in the back yard? Why not coach or referee almost every sport known to the western world? What do you mean there is no way? Really? Why not? That was Dave.

As a husband and father he would make sure that everything was done and taken care of before he would settle in. And by the way, the word everything is not a metaphor. It really means everything. Dave loved every second of it. He decided to take a year off of work because he knew that work would always be there. Snuggles, hair brushes, story time and cuddling on the couch or in bed, or just family time in general would not always be. He was the only dad on the beach when everyone else had gone or, the only one making a fire even in the freezing rain. He was never the dad on the side or standing still. He was the coach or, at least the referee. He was fast, strong, silly, goofy, funny and cool all in one. He was as his children have told me, “the funnest dad in the whole world”. That was Dave.

As a teacher and principal Dave would do things that sounded ridiculous to his counterparts. You could only enter his school via a handshake or a hug; even if you were the Federal Health Rep who stated that it was not appropriate during the H1N1 epidemic. She entered with a reluctant handshake, she left with a hug. Dave also knew that not all kids came to school for a “formal education”. It was his job to get kids there anyway he could including handshakes and hugs and letting them use the gym, play music or games, wrestle or race him, or go on a slush run with or for the Principal. Dave knew that if kids felt good about themselves at school, they would want to be there. If students were struggling, Dave would walk them to school or have breakfast or dinner with their families, until they felt better about school, themselves or the situation. That was Dave.

Dave believed that there was good and great potential in all kids. Every child and youth deserved a second chance. This really meant as many chances as it takes. You could see this when he was with them. He loved his students. He played with them, practiced with them, worked along side of them. He worried about them. He wanted good things for all of them. But, he would not wait. He would create opportunities and conditions where they could have the best chance of doing better and potentially flourish beyond expectations. Dave encouraged the students to challenge him, themselves and each other. It was not uncommon to see him wrestling, racing, doing push ups, walking on his hands, answering a challenging question or trying out a new activity, dance move or sport at the request of a student. What was amazing was that Dave would just win by a touch or a hair. He would only do one more than his students. He could have done better, done more; but his intent was to give them something to reach for; hope and a goal that was within their reach. Inevitably they would practice and inevitably they would get better. That was Dave.

As a colleague, coach or co-worker, he had your back; even if you didn’t know it. Dave wanted the best for the kids. If that’s what you wanted, he would do anything and everything to build you up and help you out. And again, the word everything and anything are not metaphors; they are used literally. Come early, stay late, take on more, do more, be more? Why not? Will it help? Can we do it? Why not? That was Dave.

His impact on so many people was profound. He was just getting started. He was only 40. I can only imagine what he could have accomplished if he had another 40 years. I guess that’s all we can do is imagine…Imagine if…Imagine if we could take a lesson from Dave? What would that look like? Dave’s lessons came in his actions and interactions. His lectures were in the way that he lived his life. We can’t be Dave. Not only would this be impossible, but we also must be Us. And work to be the best Us that we can be. I know unequivocally, that is what Dave would want. He would also want us to do what we could to make the lives of other people better. That was Dave.

Some of Dave’s Lessons

All that I have learned from Dave will have to wait. I believe it will fill a novel. I can’t wait to read it. Until then there are several things that I would like to share with you. They may somehow or in some way just make things better.

Have FUN

This is the simplest of all of the lessons. Dave wanted to have fun and would attempt whatever it took, whenever, to accomplish that goal. He made good days great and could take some of the worst days and make them good just by creating or being the fun. If he could not be or construct the fun, he would do what he could to make something in it funny. Live, Love and above all try to LAUGH!


Dave was building relationships; not just for now but for the future. You can’t build people up from a distance. You have to be up close and personal. Everything was personal with Dave. He would give you all of him; his mind, body, spirit and above all his heart. If there was a choice between a task and jeopardizing or damaging a relationship, that task would have to wait or be let go. Nothing was more important than relationships and the people in them. Relationships are everything. Cherish them. Do what you can to make them better.

Use “NO” with Discretion

“NO” was a word that many people rarely heard from Dave. That word was tied for first with the word “Can’t”. Why was this? Dave used these words with much caution and discretion. He once told me, “I don’t like the word can’t”. If you’re going to say no, there better be a darn good reason for it. Because if there isn’t, then the answer must be one of two things; YES or, it’s not that it won’t happen – we just need to figure out how it will happen.

Find a WAY

This is related to the above lesson. Dave was more than an out-of-the-box thinker. He would actually start and stay in the box and do what he could. If he became “stuck” he would do one of several things and not necessarily in any particular order. He would ask someone that knew what they were doing to get into the box with him and help. Sometimes he would ask them if they could bring an extra box along. Often, he would actually step outside of the box, but only because that is the best place to dismantle it and put it back together. I have learned this lesson well and have tacked three wonderful words on the end of statements like, “that will never work!” or “this is impossible”. These three words are “…IN THAT WAY”.

Do What YOU Can

This is probably one of the most valuable lessons that I learned from Dave. If you were to ask him, “Why would you….” And you can add anything on here, for instance:

  • Walk a student to school each day for a week
  • Buy someone groceries
  • Try to learn more about 400 students’ than just their names
  • Go out of your way to make sure people are OK, even if the situation doesn’t involve you
  • Drive 9 kids 26 hours for an art show and painting supplies
  • Throw the most amazing parties for your wife and children
  • Make all the guests in your house breakfast, even when you haven’t slept

…and he would tell you in no uncertain terms, “I do it, because I can”.

That was Dave.

David John De Groot was and continues to be my greatest source of strength and inspiration. He was a bright light and life in the world. Unfortunately when he left us, that light went out. But his energy, his spirit shine on and radiate still through his children, family, friends and the thousands of people that he has touched. Dave would want us to take that light and the parts of his heart that he has trusted us with and, he would encourage us…Do what you can…Be Good to Each Other.

If you wish to learn a little more about Dave you can find more at:

Macleans Magazine – http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/06/10/1970-2010-david-john-degroot/

Dave De Groot Memory Page