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Cleary clearly fortunate

Catching up with Bill Cleary

CAMBRIDGE -- It's safe to say Bill Cleary is one of the greatest hockey players to ever lace up the skates or coach behind the bench in New England.

His achievements speak for themselves.

Cleary, 69, has won an Olympic Gold medal, Olympic Silver medal, an NCAA Ice Hockey National Championship, and the Lester Patrick Award. He was named to the NCAA Ice Hockey 50th Anniversary team, chosen as the US Hockey Player of the Decade (1956-66), inducted into the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame and the US Olympic Hall of Fame. In 1996 he was selected as one of the "100 Golden Olympians" by the US Olympic Committee.

Sports Illustrated named him the 33rd best athlete of the 20th century in the state of Massachusetts.

"It's all nice and fun and I have enjoyed everything I have ever done in life," said Cleary. "They all provide great satisfaction. I've been a very fortunate person to have had some success."

Cleary was the captain of the 1960 United States hockey team, which went on to win the gold medal upsetting the heavily favored Russians 2-1 in Squaw Valley, Cal. Cleary led the US team in scoring with 12 points (6 goals, 6 assists) and scored the first goal in the 2-1 win over the Russians.

"They were a great hockey team, really terrific," said Cleary of the Russians. "You could tell they were really great players. We didn't know much about the Russian team."

While playing college hockey at Harvard the pros came knocking on Cleary's door, but he decided to turn them down.

"I always had a great passion for amateur athletics and turned down the pros, which is probably the best thing that happened to me," said Cleary. "When I was in college I had the chance to play pro hockey and I turned it down. Knowing what I know now I never would have played in two Olympic games. I could win a hundred Stanley Cups, but that would never equal marching in the parade of the Olympic games."

After Cleary was finished playing, he decided to coach hockey. He became the Harvard men's coach in 1971 and coached the Crimson for 19 years. In 1989 he led Harvard to a 31-3 record and an NCAA National Championship.

"Winning the NCAA was great for the kids at Harvard," said Cleary. "It's not going to happen all the time. I think it showed other people you can be a student and still be successful in athletics. It shows the kids can compete with all the other guys."

After retiring from coaching in 1990 Cleary served as the Harvard athletic director through 2001, which was when he officially retired from Harvard athletics.

"They had asked me if I would be interested in the A.D. job and thought what would I want that for," said Cleary. "I started thinking if I stopped coaching and didn't have something dealing with young people I would have withdrawals. Fortunately they asked me if I would like to be the A.D.

"I enjoyed it because I was dealing with all the teams - boys and girls. That was fun because no matter what sport you play sports are sports. You get things out of it and to be part of it I thoroughly enjoyed it."

Since retiring in 2001, Cleary has become a full-time grandparent of four grandchildren: Aidan 9, Liam 7, Quinn 4, and Cole, 2.

"They used to call me A.D. and now they call me D.D. - Designated Driver - driving my grandsons all over the place," said Cleary. "I'm all over the place with them. I have been to more rinks and now it's baseball season. They love hockey and baseball. I love it, love watching them and it's fun."

Cleary resides in Auburndale, Mass., with his wife of 44 years, Jo. They have two daughters Paula, who is married and lives in Connecticut, Kate, who is an interior decorator, and a son, Bill III, who has the four grandchildren, and has taken over the family insurance business (Cleary Insurance, Inc.). Cleary started the business in 1968 and ran while he was coaching at Harvard.

"I turned my own insurance business over to my son and I still go in there sometimes," said Cleary. "He has done an unbelievable job and has quadrupled the size of the agency."

Cleary is loving life since his retirement and he is busy as ever.

"I skated up until this year every Sunday morning at Harvard," said Cleary. "My wife said you are sixty-nine years old, what are you doing. I said put me in a box so I can't do it. I stay busy. I'm always on the go and I am pooped when I hit the hay."

If you are interested in finding out where a New England Sports Legend is these days, please e-mail Jon Goode at

Bill Cleary
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