RyaEdward J. Chavez ’52, a beloved Marin County high school coach and revered patriarch of a legendary basketball family, died Sept. 10 at his home in Ross. He was 84.
Mr. Chavez had been in declining health since suffering a stroke in 2007. He was the father of six sons, all of them Marin high school basketball and sports stars. A coach for almost 50 years, Mr. Chavez is a member of the Marin Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame. He was confined to a wheelchair after the stroke, but was able to attend a celebration of his life last year in the St. Anselm School gym in San Anselmo.
"We had hundreds of people at the tribute to him," his niece, Bonnie Barron, recalled. "He had an amazing way of making everyone feel
loved and welcome in his home and in his life."
After starting his coaching career at St. Mary’s High School in the East Bay, he was hired at Tamalpais High in Mill Valley in 1959 and quickly made his mark in Marin athletics, leading the Tam boys varsity basketball team to a league title in his first season and creating a basketball dynasty at the school in the 1960s.
But he was more than an Xs and Os kind of coach. "He taught lessons in life, not just how to go to your left and shoot threes," Eileen Chavez, his wife of 58 years, said. "Every kid who ever worked with him knew that whatever he asked them to do, it was because he cared."
Mr. Chavez retired from Tam in 1987, but his coaching days were far from over. He went on to coach tennis at the Branson School in Ross for more than 20 years. He confined his coaching to the tennis court, but now-retired Branson boys basketball coach Jonas Honick said in a 2008 Independent Journal story that he would often pick Mr. Chavez’s brain before practice.
"The longer he coached, the more emphasis he placed on teaching," Honick said. "That doesn’t mean he wasn’t competitive, though. He set very high standards for all his teams."
During his time at Branson, Mr. Chavez’s tennis team once went up against a Drake High squad coached by his wife, a longtime Marin teaching professional. Her team ended up winning.
Even though her husband wasn’t used to losing, "He was so gracious about it," she remembered, then proudly pointed out that his teams were perennial champions, going to "the North Coast Section more than any other coach."
Born in 1929 in Panama, Mr. Chavez grew up in Vallejo and graduated from St. Vincent High School there. Although he was just over 5-feet-9 and 130 pounds, he went to the University of Santa Clara on an athletic scholarship, lettering in football, basketball and baseball.
After college, he was recruited by the New York Yankees, but had to turn that offer down to complete a two-year army commitment. A lieutenant, he spent his service time as a player coach for an army baseball team in Europe.
One of the reasons Mr. Chavez stopped coaching at Tam was so he could attend basketball games at Drake High School in San Anselmo, where his son, Eddie Joe ’78, was beginning a legendary career considered among the best in Marin County history. He went on to star at Santa Clara and to play professionally for 20 years overseas.
After Mr. Chavez was too incapacitated by the stroke to coach, his son, Buck Chavez, took over his coaching duties at Branson, remembering what his dad had taught him.
"My parents were more into letting us love a sport first and learn how to play it second," he once said in an IJ story. Beyond sports, Mr. Chavez emphasized the importance of family and community, and hung photos of the many players he coached on the walls of his home.
"He’s been a father figure to all of us," former Branson athletic director Tom Ryan said once. "If people ever look back on me some day, the best compliment I could get would be if they said I was anything like Ed Chavez."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Chavez is survived by sons Eddie Joe and Buck, both of Woodacre; Greg of Santa Rosa, Pat of Petaluma, Terry of Southern California and Chris of Seattle. He also leaves two brothers, William and Charles; two sisters, Norma White and Debra Sordello, and 16 grandchildren.