Donald E. (Dee) Rowe, former head coach of Men’s Basketball at the University of Connecticut and UConn’s iconic Athletics Ambassador for the past 53 years, passed away early Sunday, at his home in Storrs, CT at the age of 91, surrounded by his loving family.
Dee was born on January 20, 1929, in Worcester, MA. He was predeceased by his beloved parents Minott and Arlene Rowe and his brother M. Richmond Rowe. At Middlebury College, Dee met the love of his life, Virginia (Ginny) Bradford Reynolds. Dee and Ginny were married for 64 incredible years and shared a deep love and adoration for each other. Completely devoted, they were each other’s best friends. Theirs was a love story for the ages. Together they raised a family of seven children, 17 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Dee’s family was his pride and joy, yet he and Ginny were the heroes of his family. Ginny predeceased Dee in 2018.
Dee lived life with passion and purpose. He believed each day was a gift. He had a big personality and a bigger heart that drew people in wherever he went. His deep friendships knew no bounds. He was a master storyteller and had a sense of humor that was infectious. He reached out to people and inspired them to chase their dreams and become their best selves. He was genuinely interested in all people as he asked questions, listened with an open mind and heart, and offered a hand to help. He’d often engage a stranger, introduce himself, and ask about their life. Inevitably he’d discover someone in common, and soon he’d have a new friend. His love for people was uncanny as he found joy sharing the world with others. He was a visionary in his faith in humanity and encouraged people to accomplish things they might never have achieved. Dee spent his life in service, offering his support, wisdom, humor, and love.
When he wasn’t on the basketball court, Dee’s favorite place in the world was Cape Cod. He, Ginny, and their family spent summers and holidays there, creating memories cherished for a lifetime. These times included picnics, walks on the beach, riding the waves, playing pickle, attending summer Cape Cod Baseball games, and visiting with dear friends and family. Dee prided himself on swimming in the ocean every day. He even enjoyed a swim during what was his final visit to the Cape this past fall. Middlebury, VT was also a place close to Dee’s heart, where in his “retirement,” he taught a course at the College for many years. Dee and Ginny treasured their time there.
Dee “fell in love” with the game of basketball in the third grade. He attended Worcester Academy (Class of ’47), captaining the basketball and baseball teams, and played basketball at Middlebury College (A.B. 1952). He also earned an M.Ed. at Boston University in 1953.
Dee was Director of Athletics and Head Coach of men’s basketball and baseball at Worcester Academy from 1955 to 1969. He built the school’s basketball program into a perennial power in New England prep school ranks. His teams won nine New England Prep School Championships, and he compiled a record of 180-44. Dee also co-created the Worcester Academy sports camps and for nearly 60 years, the camp has served thousands of kids throughout Worcester and surrounding areas. Dee maintained close ties to Worcester Academy for over 70 years as a trustee emeritus and friend.
In March of 1969, Dee was named head coach of men’s basketball at UConn and directed the program for the next eight years, winning 120 games. He was named New England Coach of the Year twice (1970, 1976), led UConn to a pair of NIT berths (1974, 1975), and guided the 1975-76 UConn team to the ECAC New England Championship, a berth in the NCAA Tournament and UConn advanced to the NCAA “Sweet 16.”
During the 1960s and 1970s, Dee was involved in numerous national and international level coaching clinician activities as well as serving as an assistant coach at the 1975 U.S. National Team Intercontinental Cup Games; coach at the 1976 U.S. Olympic Basketball Trials; and assistant coach for the 1980 Big East Conference All-Star tour of Yugoslavia.
In 1979, Dee was a key “behind the scenes” influence as his close personal relationship with Big East Conference founder Dave Gavitt helped pave the way for UConn to be invited as a charter member into the newly formed collegiate league.
In 1980, Dee experienced what he called “the greatest thrill of my personal basketball life” when he represented his country as Assistant Coach of the United States Men’s Basketball Olympic Team. He joined head coach Dave Gavitt and fellow assistant coach Larry Brown as USA Olympic Basketball Coaches.
After concluding his head coaching tenure at UConn, Dee launched the fund-raising arm for UConn Athletics. For the next 13 years, he became a national leader as a collegiate athletics fundraiser and generated millions of dollars for UConn athletics, including donations to support the building of the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion/Sports Center Complex.
For the past 30 years, since his official UConn “retirement” in 1991, Dee remained actively involved at the school in his emeritus role as Special Adviser for Athletics and UConn’s Athletics Ambassador.
Dee’s remarkable professional career included numerous individual honors. This was highlighted in 2017 when he received his greatest recognition, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2007, Dee was a member of the inaugural class of inductees to the UConn Basketball “Huskies of Honor.” That year, UConn awarded Dee with the “University Medal,” one of its most prestigious honors. He received the “Gold Key” from the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance, was a member of the inaugural class of honorees in the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, and was honored by the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) with its “Lifetime Achievement Award.” In 2015, the ECAC honored Dee with its highest honor, naming him to the ECAC Hall of Fame. Other honors bestowed upon Dee included: Nutmeg State Games “Living Legend Award”, National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Merit Award, and Connecticut High School Coaches Association Distinguished Service Award.
Dee is survived by his children and their families, including his daughter Donna Rowe-Korn, her husband Bob Korn of Orleans, MA and their children Tyler and Palmer; Cindy Rowe Pelletier, her husband Rich Pelletier of Bolton, MA and their children Jesse, his fiancé Peri, and Justin; Karen Rowe, her husband Jon Heyman of Northampton, MA and their children Jacob and Leah; Lisa Shafto, her husband Dennis Shafto of Chapel Hill, NC and their children Chris, his wife Hilary and their daughter Kensey, and Ashton, her husband Brent and their son Hudson; Don Rowe, his wife Gail Rowe of Marblehead, MA and their children George, Brendan, Dillon, and Grace; Julie Rowe of Sterling, MA and her sons Aidan and Cormac; Jennifer Havlicek, her husband Desmond Havlicek of Cohasset, MA, and their children Declan, Cass, and Quinn. Dee is also survived by his nieces and nephews Cam Hardy, Andrea Reynolds, Brad Reynolds, Dean Rowe, Brad Rowe, and their spouses and children.
The Rowe family expresses their deepest gratitude to Dee’s team of loving, devoted caregivers, Cyndi Smith, Olga Cabrera, Beth Ennis, and Kim Ericson. These incredible women made it possible for Dee to continue to have a rich, full life at his home after losing his beloved wife, Ginny.
A memorial service will be held at a later date when it is safe to gather together to honor Dee’s passing.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Dee’s name to the University of Connecticut “Dee Rowe Athletic Scholarship Fund” (https://www.foundation.uconn.edu/fund/dee-rowe-athletic-scholarship-fund/); the Worcester Academy “Rowe Family Scholarship” (www.worcesteracademy.org/rowe