She had a lovely smile, and a lovely spirit.

Helen Marie Davis Dean, 81, of Ashland, Ore., passed away in her sleep on January 3, 2012, at Farmington Square in Medford, Ore., after a long struggle with Alzheimer's Disease.

She was born in Wyandotte, Mich., June 18, 1930, to John Earl Davis and Sylvia Fuoco Davis. Her elementary and secondary educations were in Wyandotte schools. Upon graduation she attended the University of Michigan, earning a bachelor of arts in education in 1951. In 1964, she was awarded a masters degree in education at the University of New Mexico, in guidance and counseling.

In 1951, she married John G. Mills. They later divorced. In 1965, she married James L. Dean. Their marriage flourished for 46 years.

Helen came from a family of teachers. A favorite aunt, her father, her mother, and her two sisters all taught in public and private schools. Helen herself was a gifted teacher of kindergarteners and first and second graders in Michigan, Kentucky, and New Mexico. After coming to Oregon with husband, James (he had been hired by Southern Oregon College), she was a dean of students/counselor at Hedrick Junior High School, from 1976-1989. In the final three years before she retired (in 1992), she delighted in teaching reading to first and second graders at Jackson Elementary School, as an instructor in a Chapter One reading program. At family gatherings, talk soon found its way to the subject of teaching and students, and the atmosphere became electric, even magical, as she and her siblings related classroom drama and the joy they experienced when with students.

Helen's other great loves were playing bridge, reading, playing the piano, listening to choral and classical music, iceskating, cross-country skiing, and, in her younger years, cave exploring. She was an excellent cook, a gracious hostess, and a loving mother. Though sometimes feisty and fierce when faced with foolishness or unjust behavior, she was delightfully affectionate, having grown up among Italian relatives where there were liberal quantities of hugs and kisses, as well as lively conversations during long dinners of spaghetti or lasagna.

Always a champion of the underdog, the bullied, and the slighted, she had a lifelong passion for social justice. She was a member of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, the League of Women Voters, the Ashland Human Rights Council, the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, and The International League for Peace and Freedom. Helen was also a lover of the arts, especially the visual arts. Following her retirement from teaching she served as a docent for the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland. She especially enjoyed visits from classes of elementary students, believing that if properly encouraged they would see art with fresh eyes.

Helen was blessed with three children, John Mark Mills (Laurie), an administrative law judge in Portland, Ore.; Christopher W. Dean (Alison Parakh), a lecturer in The Writing Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Calif.; and Emily Marie Dean, assistant professor of anthropology, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah. Grandchildren are Rachel Elizabeth Mills, John Alexander Mills, and Andrew James Dean. Also surviving are a brother, John Earl Fuoco Davis, of Costa Mesa, Calif.; and two sisters, Anne Izzi and Sue Kjoller, both of Coronado, Calif. Helen was preceded in death by her parents.

Family members wish to thank the compassionate and loving staff at Farmington Square for the excellent care Helen received while a resident there. The family is also grateful for the care provided by Rogue Valley Medical Center's Hospice workers. Their work is inspirational.

A memorial service will be held at Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home, 1811 Ashland St., Ashland, Ore., on Saturday, January 14, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. A celebration of her life will occur at the Dean residence, 395 Helman St., Ashland, 1:00 p.m., the same day.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Alzheimer's Association; to the ARC of Jackson County; or to the Schneider Museum of Art at Southern Oregon University.

Arrangements are by Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home. www.litwillersimonsen.com