By April Martinez
On the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, a docent is a person who is available to assist and educate visitors. Add the elements of fun and entertainment, though, and you have the Midway docent Tom Dean.
Dean became a Midway volunteer one month before the museum’s opening day in 2004, and has helped the Midway become a top tourist attraction in San Diego, due to his great affinity to entertain guests and colleagues. Using humor is pretty much second nature for the 78-year-old San Carlos resident.
“Depending on your point of view, I’m either blessed or cursed with a penchant for finding the funny side of almost every situation,” he said. “I guess that’s why my wife refuses to go with me to funerals.”
More than being a stand-out docent, Dean is also a stand-up comedian. His act is called “Barely Able to Stand Up Comedy” and involves humor about life after 60. His venues include comedy clubs, retirement villages, and events for those he calls “Life’s Veterans.” He’s also a YouTube sensation.
Dean grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. He joined the US Navy after college and after 12 weeks of Officer Candidate School, received an officer’s commission in 1960. He served two years aboard the carrier USS Hancock, which he recalls nostalgically each time he’s aboard the Midway. He also served as the assistant officer-in-charge of a navy special warfare team based in Coronado.
After the Navy, Dean had a successful civilian career, which included marketing management positions with Trans World Airlines, Travelodge Hotels, and UCSD Extension. He and his wife, Marge — the former superintendent of the Cajon Valley School District — have been married 55 years and have three married sons and six grandchildren.
Dean has accumulated over 5,000 hours as a volunteer on the Midway, which is a huge milestone for a docent. One of his best memories of his docent duties is a guided tour he provided for a Saudi prince and an entourage including his wife, two daughters and 24 bodyguards. After the tour, the prince was impressed enough to leave a considerably large cash donation to the museum.
“Being a Midway docent is the best thing that could ever happen to a guy my age looking for a relevant retirement,” he said. “Besides, where else could I join up with a bunch of other old sailors, meeting museum guests from all over the world, and telling them hilarious sea stories?
“And most of them are true,” he said with a wink.
If you would like information about becoming a docent for the USS Midway Museum, visit midway.org.
—April Martinez writes on behalf of the USS Midway Museum. Reach her at email@example.com.