Dude Angius: Inspiring educator, trailblazer in the fight against AIDS

Photo courtesy of Shelly Bowers
Dushan Angius speaks at his 2014 gym dedication. Mr. Angius coached and was principal of Los Altos High School from 1955 to 1975.

Dushan “Dude” Angius was a larger-than-life figure who inspired generations of youth as an educator and brought the sensitive subject of AIDS to the forefront at a time when discussion of the disease was rife with ignorance.

Mr. Angius, former coach and principal at Los Altos High School, died Jan. 7 after a long illness. He was 88.

Born in Los Angeles, Mr. Angius graduated from Gilroy High School in 1946. He earned a Master of Arts degree from Stanford University in 1951 before embarking on a 30-year career in education. Twenty of those years, 1955-1975, were primarily at Los Altos High, 10 as principal. Mr. Angius served an additional eight years as superintendent of the Lassen County School District before transitioning to an 18-year career in insurance.

Although he lived in the East Bay, Mr. Angius kept strong ties to the Los Altos community, including long-standing membership in the Rotary Club of Los Altos.

At 6 feet 5 inches, he cast a physically imposing presence, but his fairness and firm leadership earned the respect and admiration of many.

“He was my childhood hero and my friend later in life,” said 1959 Los Altos High graduate Mel Kahn, who played basketball under Mr. Angius. His motivational skills as a coach sparked a winning tradition with the Los Altos Knights (later Eagles). Kahn sponsored Mr. Angius’ introduction into the Rotary Club of Los Altos in 1983.

Andrew Tink, a 1971 Los Altos High graduate who went on to a prominent political career in Australia, described Mr. Angius as “a cross between Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart – with an extra 4 inches of height thrown in.”

Tink pointed to Mr. Angius’ leadership as principal during the volatile late-1960s and early-1970s, amid the controversies of the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration.

“Although students were deeply divided amongst themselves, they were united in their admiration of Dude,” said the former student body president. “And this more than anything else helped to hold the school together at what was a very difficult time.”

A few years back, Kahn and other classmates mounted a campaign to rename the Los Altos High gymnasium after Mr. Angius. School leaders and the community eagerly complied with the request. At a 2014 dedication ceremony, admirers filled the gym to pay tribute to the man they called “Dude.”

AIDS awareness

Mr. Angius took the tragedy of his son Steve’s death from AIDS in 1989 as motivation to help find a cure for the devastating disease. He was among a handful of Rotary Club of Los Altos members who formed the Rotary AIDS Project. The group’s crowning achievement was “The Los Altos Story,” an award-winning 1990 documentary that chronicled the impact the then-taboo disease was having on his family and Rotary Club members. It included an announcement from fellow Rotarian Walter Singer that he, too, had contracted AIDS. The documentary drew national and international attention, furthering AIDS awareness and encouraging research to fight the disease. More than 20,000 copies of the film have been distributed around the world.

“Dude Angius was the epitome of a citizen-leader,” said James Curran, M.D., an AIDS researcher who worked with Mr. Angius and the Rotary AIDS Project. “When I met him during the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, it was immediately apparent that he was a man of vision and courage who was moved to act to support what then was an unpopular cause – promoting awareness about AIDS and how to prevent it and provide compassionate help for those in need ... a true public health hero.”

In a letter to the Stanford Alumni Association, fellow Rotarian Marlene Cowan wrote, “Back in 1989, when the word ‘AIDS’ was uttered only in hushed phrases, he spoke out to make a difference in the lives of others when his beloved son Steve succumbed to the disease. In their grief, even his family was not sure that speaking out would be the right thing to do. But Dude courageously stood up and spoke for all who were suffering in silence.”

Kahn was astounded at Mr. Angius’ impact in the wake of “The Los Altos Story.”

“He was really known all over the world,” Kahn said.

Mr. Angius, in turn, seemed to know everyone. Part of his successful way with people, Kahn said, was his genuine interest in them. At Los Altos High alumni functions, Mr. Angius appeared to remember all of his former students’ names.

“Dude had the most amazing memory and really cared about people,” said Los Altos resident Shelly Bowers, a 1974 Los Altos High graduate. “Not only would Dude remember everyone, but he would ask about their siblings, friends and parents they hung out with by name. ... He was crazy sharp.”

Los Altos Rotarian and friend Dick Henning praised Mr. Angius’ influence at the gymnasium dedication.

“He’s changed lives and he’s saved lives,” said Henning, noting that Mr. Angius had “uncanny insight into young people’s problems, their dreams, their aspirations, their potential, which resulted in him becoming a father figure to many of the students.”

Mr. Angius’ son Mike offered three key lessons learned in growing up with “The Dude.”

“His three irrefutable priorities in life (were): No. 1, family, family and family,” Mike said. “No. 2, if you are not prepared to give 100 percent to whatever given task, don’t take it on. No. 3, never forget nor neglect to express appreciation to anyone and everyone, no matter how small the gesture.”

Mr. Angius is survived by Barbara, his wife of 65 years; sons Dan, Mike and Bob and daughter Toni; eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren; and his brother, Jack. Son Steve and brother Gene preceded him in death.

Services are scheduled 11 a.m. Feb. 27 at Saint Anne’s Church, 1600 Rossmoor Parkway, Walnut Creek.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Los Altos Rotary Aids Project at or the Dude Angius Family Leadership Scholarship at Los Altos High School, Attention: Silvia Alcala, 201 Almond Ave., Los Altos 94022.

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