GARDINER — How do you define a hero?

A life saver? A caretaker? A protector?

For Barry Warren, 51, of Georgetown, Mass., the answer is as comforting as a gentle breeze on a hazy afternoon.

“I know not too many people get to meet their heroes,” he said. “I was lucky. I got to meet mine. My dad was my hero. He was bigger than life. With Dad, it was kind of like having a super hero around.

“He showed me how to live and now he’s shown me how to die. I won’t ever forget him and I will forever miss him.”

Arthur Robert Warren died Sunday at his High Holborn Street home in Gardiner after battling ALS for several years. He was 72.

Warren is survived by his wife of 51 years, Catherine, three sons, six grandchildren and thousands more whose lives he impacted as their coach, their teacher or their friend.

On Friday, they will come to Gardiner Regional Middle School for a memorial service in his honor. They will laugh, cry and say goodbye to a man who leaves an indelible imprint on a community that affectionately knew him as Artie.

“I’ve lost a true friend forever in Artie,” said Erskine athletic director Doran Stout, 57, who played basketball at Gardiner Area High School for Coach Warren in the early 1970s. “The world is a little worse place to be without Artie in it. I was always picking his brain to see what I could grab out of it. He was a special guy. I’m never going to forget him. Ever.”

Warren was born in Brunswick and developed a love of music and sports, particularly the trumpet and basketball.

He graduated from Brunswick High School in 1959 and then enrolled at the University of Maine, where he played basketball for Brian McCall and baseball for the legendary Jack Butterfield. He also competed on the track and field team.

He became captain of the basketball team in his senior season for the Black Bears. It was during this time when he met longtime Colby men’s basketball coach Dick Whitmore, who was then a sophomore forward at Bowdoin College.

“We played against each other a lot,” said Whitmore, 70, of Waterville. “His younger brother and I became good friends at Bowdoin. He was just a very, very polished athlete. He was ahead of his time. He had the ability to generate what you had to have in basketball. He was a great leaper and a great shooter.

“It was a very energizing experience playing with Artie Warren.”

Warren graduated from Maine in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in education, something that would serve him well in decades to come.

Warren became coach of the Winthrop boys basketball team, and in 1965 he led it to the Class B state championship.

Whitmore, who was then the coach at Hall-Dale, and Warren played for a semi-pro basketball team in Augusta during this time as well.

“He was fantastic,” Whitmore said.

In 1967, Warren came to Gardiner, where he would coach the basketball, cross country and tennis teams.

He led the Tigers to several strong seasons, including a 17-1 mark in 1974. Stout started at forward on that team, which was upset in Bangor during the Eastern Maine tournament.

“Gardiner has not been known as a basketball town,” Stout said. “It’s a football town, and we all understood that. But Artie, he got people turned on to basketball again. We played in front of full gyms every night.”

Stout described Warren as a demanding yet caring coach.

“I cannot tell you how much I appreciate now what I got from Artie,” Stout said. “You never saw it coming at the time. I got to be a handful and he and I bumped heads a lot — and he always won. He was intense. He would understand if you had a bad game or if you missed some shots, but he wouldn’t tolerate it if you showed up without the mental approach needed to play a game.”

Moe McNally was a sophomore at Gardiner when Warren came to the school. She never had him for a teacher but his impact was still profound.

“I grew up with him in a sense,” McNally said. “He always pushed me to try harder. He pushed me to become a better student.”

Warren would later receive his master’s of education at Maine, and in 1980 he became principal of Gardiner Regional Middle School. He held that position 28 years before he retired in 2008.

McNally was hired as a teacher and field hockey coach at Gardiner in 1979. She credits Warren with helping her through her “rookie years” as a teacher.

“I knew Artie in stages,” she said. “I knew him as a student and then as a teacher. He helped me out a lot. His legacy will far outreach what we remember. If the walls here could talk, we’d be listening to their stories for days.”

After retiring, Warren returned to coaching, this time as an assistant to Jason Cassidy with the Gardiner boys varsity basketball team. He provided scouting reports on opponents and helped the Tigers reach the Class B state championship game in the 2011-12 season.

Barry, Brian and Brett Warren describe their father as a caring husband and father who always had time for his family.

“He never missed our games,” said Brett Warren, 42, of Derry, N.H. “That’s the one thing that always comes to mind. I took the lead from that. I try to carry that tradition with my own kids (Zachary and Matthew).

“But what I’ll always remember is the one-on-one time with him, and that always goes back to his other passion: Fishing. We would go out to Cobbossee Stream and he would always tell me where to throw my lure. A good percentage of the time it would come back with a fish on it.”

Brian Warren, 48, of Rockford, Ill., followed his father as an educator. He’s taught in the Riley Community Consolidated School District in Marengo, Ill.

“I’m the science department,” he said. “I’m the department chair and the teacher. It’s a small district, just like Gardiner. I learned a lot from my dad. He always told me what I needed to hear. He was my father, not my best friend. There is a difference, you know.”

Barry Warren also followed his dad in his basketball exploits. He oversaw the Georgetown youth basketball program for 10 years. He said he ran the program like his dad would.

“If I ever had a doubt about anything, I would stop and think of him,” he said. “He taught me a lot about everything. He was like that when we played sports, too, as kids. He was not a helicopter parent. He was one of those fathers who never critiqued you when you first stepped off the field or court. Sometimes, he’d just say nothing. You never heard him at your games but you knew he was there. I act the same way in the gyms that my old man did.

“I think my only mistake was that I put him up on this pedestal when he was just a man. But he was a pretty good one.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]

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