J.R. Richardson and Dan Lean became close friends even though Lean was 16 years older and had cut Richardson years ago from the freshman basketball team at West Junior High School.
On Thursday, Richardson was among a host of friends, former students, former athletes at Butte High School, and family members who were grieving in the wake of Butte native Daniel "Dan" Lean’s sudden death Wednesday. Lean, 76, a dedicated walker, was struck that morning by a motorist on Amherst Avenue and died later at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula.
“It’s a tragic loss for those who knew him and a loss for Butte,” Richardson said. “He wasn’t in the forefront, but he was always there. He was so proud of Butte.”
Richardson said he used to tease Lean that he had ended his hoops career before it even started.
“Dan had a great sense of humor,” he said. “He was fun to be around.”
But what impressed Richardson most about his friend was Lean’s allegiance to the people and city dear to him.
“The one biggest quality Dan had was loyalty to friends, but it was also loyalty to Butte High School and the Butte community,” he said. “He wore Butte on his sleeve.”
John Ries, 71, shared similar thoughts about Lean, with whom he taught for many years at Butte High School, where both men also served as coaches of sports teams.
“Dan loved Butte, and he was dedicated to education and to the people around him,” said Ries, who retired in 2009 after teaching for 38 years and serves as mayor of Walkerville.
Dan Lean, born in Butte in 1941, attended Butte High School and Western Montana College, from which he earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees. He began his teaching career at East Junior High School in the mid-1960s before moving to teach at West Junior High School a few years later, where he taught math -- as he did throughout his career -- and also coached basketball and football.
In the mid-1970s, Lean began teaching and coaching at Butte High School, where he stayed until his retirement in 1998. He served 19 years as an assistant basketball coach and three years as head basketball coach at Butte High, where he also served 20 years as an assistant football coach.
After Lean retired from teaching in the public schools, he taught math for a time at Butte Central High School.
Don Peoples Jr., president of Butte Central Catholic Schools, recalled Lean's work for the private school.
"He was an outstanding educator who did a great job with the students at Butte Central," Peoples said. "The thoughts and prayers of the entire Butte Central community go out to Dan and his family."
He said Lean will be remembered Friday at the school mass at St. Patrick Church.
Tom Roberts, 66, a close friend for roughly four decades, struggled Thursday to articulate both the depth of his friendship with Lean and the impact of his death.
The two men played golf together frequently during the golfing season and otherwise met for coffee in the mornings and often worked out together at Butte Country Club.
"He was a true friend," Roberts said. "It's hard to put into words what he meant as a friend. He cared about all the people he knew."
He said he feels a profound loss.
"You see somebody every day, and then he's gone," Roberts said. "And the impact of that is super difficult to put into words."
Both the Montana Highway Patrol and Division of Criminal Investigations and Butte-Silver Bow Law Enforcement are investigating the circumstances of the accident that took Lean's life Wednesday.
Lean's family said he religiously walked on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and that his routine route included Amherst Avenue. Around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, police have said, Lean was walking westbound on Amherst in the shoulder of the eastbound lane when he was struck by a motorist traveling east on Amherst. He was treated initially at St. James Healthcare and then transported to St. Patrick Hospital.
Police said Lean was wearing reflective clothing, as was his habit when walking, and that road conditions at the time of the accident were not believed to be a factor. According to the National Weather Service, sunrise Wednesday was at 7:57 a.m.
The 55-year-old Butte woman whose passenger car struck Lean had not been charged as of Thursday. Police said they drew a blood sample from her for testing and will examine her cellphone records to determine whether she might have been distracted when the accident occurred.
The investigation continues.
Dan Lean's survivors include his wife, Colleen; three children — Cory, Coby, and Camy, all of Butte; and six grandchildren.
Funeral services will be Tuesday at 11 a.m. at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.