The “H” in H. David Fry was for his grandfather, “Howard.” Fry shared that with The Pantagraph’s David Brummer in 1998 during an interview for a weekly “Newsmakers” column.
For those who knew Dave Fry best, the “H” might have stood for “helpful” or “honest” or “heartfelt” or “hospitable.”
If there was a Mount Rushmore of “nicest people” — there should be, really — Fry’s likeness would be included. That’s what made his death Monday at age 77 so difficult for family, friends, former colleagues … anyone who came in contact with him.
Fry served the Illinois High School Association longer than anyone. He arrived at the Bloomington headquarters in 1967 at 26 and retired in 2002, a 35-year tenure capped by 11 years as the organization’s executive director.
He oversaw a number of changes, including the controversial moving of the boys state basketball tournament from Champaign to Peoria in May 1995. He understood the outcry over uprooting a tradition-rich event from its home of 77 years, but believed it was in the best interest of the IHSA membership.
“On one hand, I walked out of the board room with a sense of jubilation in that I believe we made the right decision,” Fry said in announcing the move. “And on the other hand, I feel a little down because good friends and folks with whom we’ve worked since I joined the association are going to be disappointed with today’s action. So it’s a mixture of feelings.”
That was Dave Fry … compassionate, thoughtful, forthright.
“He was just a really good guy,” said Jim Flynn, former IHSA assistant executive director who worked with Fry for nearly 30 years. “He gave you your responsibilities and expected you to do them and then complimented you when you did a great job. So, everybody tried to do a great job.
“He said, ‘You’re on my staff. You know what I expect.’ So, you did what he expected.”
Fry’s tenure as executive director also saw the creation of the IHSA TV network, the Add A. Tude sportsmanship mascot and the March Madness Experience in Peoria.
He was a strong proponent of sportsmanship. To Fry, it wasn’t enough to be a good athlete and a good student. He wanted those participating in IHSA activities to also be good sports and good people.
It was what he expected from the guy in his mirror.
“He was a kind-hearted, genuine person,” said Marty Hickman, who joined the IHSA in 1991 and succeeded Fry as executive director from 2002 to 2016. “It was almost impossible not to like Dave. He just had a way about him that was inviting and caring. And he was a good listener.”
Fry also had vision. Hickman witnessed that in regard to sponsorships, television, the internet, etc. He considered Fry “a lot ahead of his time” in foreseeing where such things were headed.
Hickman also picked up on Fry’s management style.
“His philosophy and one that stuck with me was to hire good people, let them do their job, give them the tools to do their job, but don’t try to do their job,” Hickman said.
Among those Fry hired was Scott Johnson in August 1994 as data processing manager. He remains with the IHSA as an assistant executive director.
Johnson found Fry to be a father figure who was “warm, sincere, friendly.”
“He was a great speaker, a great orator,” Johnson said. “He went to study at Moody Bible Institute and I think he intended to be a preacher in the beginning. He still had the ability to talk to people and give them a good sermon once in a while if they needed it.”
A longtime Bloomington resident, Fry and his wife, Adrienne, had moved to Chatham to be closer to family. He is survived by Adrienne, daughters Kim, Karen and Katie, son David and numerous grandchildren.
They knew what the IHSA meant to him, but you sensed that from the outside as well. Fry oozed integrity and commitment. He was a man of grace and substance whose actions were driven by one question: “What is best for the IHSA member schools?”
He was their advocate.
And always, their friend.