Robert Dow

Teacher's union president Robert Dow dies at 67.

Robert Dow, the fiery teacher's union president that crusaded against former Chief Academic Officer Jeffrey Hernandez and battled for raises for Palm Beach County teachers, has died. He was 67.

Dow had been fighting an incurable form of leukemia since 2010 called acute myeloblastic leukemia. He died Saturday morning.

Despite his illness, Dow was known for his untiring work with the Classroom Teachers Association. Even when he was undergoing chemotherapy, he was known for answering his phone and keeping up with news from the school district.

The former drama teacher was also known for his ability to capture people's attention.

He marched at the head of hundreds of red-shirted supporters to announce that an overwhelming majority of teachers in the district had no confidence in former Superintendent Art Johnson.

He gave fiery speeches filled with rhetoric that were a noticeable departure from the often dry and jargon-filled school board meetings.

He used his medical diagnosis as a hook to get others to listen, once sending in a video of himself - in a hospital bed with a newly shaven head - to a school board meeting that drew dramatic parallels between his leukemia and dysfunction in the school district.

Dow was not always a crusader for teachers.

He didn't even get into teaching until 1998, at the age of 52. He was a substitute teacher for a while and worked with physically and mentally disabled students. Soon, he was teaching full-time as a language arts and drama teacher at Western Pines Middle School in The Acreage, where he stayed for seven years before being elected president of the teachers union.

In 2010, Western Pines named its media center after Dow. During the dedication ceremony, principal Bob Hatcher told those gathered that Dow "has had an incredible impact on our children and our community."

Dow also created The Robert Dow Endowment Fund for Western Pines and other needy public schools to buy materials for their media centers.

Dow's resume prior to joining the school district is as colorful as his character.

He served in Vietnam, ran both an exclusive eatery in Studio City and a doughnut shop, and at one point worked as a singing waiter. He even edited wire copy at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.

Dow leaves behind his wife, Sharon Dow and two children.

Published in The Palm Beach Post from June 19 to Sept. 19, 2011