‘One amazing man’: Dale Metz, tireless advocate for Greensboro’s disabled, dies

The Arc of Greensboro mourns the loss of Dale Metz and sends condolences to his family. Dale was a tireless advocate for people with disabilities. His spirit and kindness live on in the many children whose lives he impacted and the many people he mentored to serve those with disabilities. Dale, you are loved and you will be missed by so many.

From the Greensboro News & Record, January 6, 2022 – Nancy McLaughlin

metz news 052304—5/12/04—JERRY WOLFORD PHOTO —–BUDGETLINE Dale metz retires this year after 21 years as principal at gateway Education Center which serves children with special needs. As the founding principal, he’s been there since day 1. story is about is passion for the school and for “his” kids – the severely disabled kids he and his staff work with each day.CAPTION**Metz roamed the school during the lunch hour to visit with students. —Metz is quick to share a laugh with his students. Jerry Wolford / News&Record
Gateway Education Center Principal Dale Metz (left) plays ball with Allyson Clayton, 5, and her Physical Therapist Shirley Johnson in 2004. Metz retired that year after 21 years as the special-needs school’s principal. News & Record

GREENSBORO — Dale J. Metz spent a career educating and advocating for children with disabilities.

His name is on buildings and awards.

But his passion and curiosity also made the former principal at the Gateway Education Center an unsung hero of sorts.

After watching years of inaccurate portrayals of the disabled by able-bodied actors, Metz contacted a casting agent about using his students.

Hollywood was soon making casting calls at Gateway, part of the Guilford County Schools system, which serves students with severe mental or physical disabilities. Many pupils are in wheelchairs. Some have terminal conditions.

Gateway students are in the credits of the 1991 drama “House of Cards,” a Kathleen Turner and Tommy Lee Jones movie filmed in High Point and Trinity. Another Gateway student was featured in a pivotal role in “Nell,” with actors Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson.

“I take none of the credit,” Metz said at the time, deferring to the school’s talent pool.

The longtime Gateway principal, who retired in 2004 after 21 years there, remained an outspoken part of the special needs community until his death at age 75.

“I can’t change the cerebral palsy,” he told the News & Record before his retirement. “But maybe I can change the outcome.”

Metz had gall bladder surgery last month and by Dec. 30 his Facebook status included the message that he was in the hospital and unavailable.

Metz’s family confirmed his death on Facebook late Wednesday “with great difficulty,” which brought a steady stream of condolences and memories.

“No matter how important ‘he’ was,” wrote Dale Johnson Jr., “Dale Metz never made you feel forgotten.”

In 2011, Metz was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest civilian honor.

“The world lost this great man yesterday,” wrote Stuart Stanley, one of Metz’s longtime friends. “He was an amazing educator, thespian, humanitarian, supporter of the arts, Santa and all around good human being! His infectious laugh and gentle spirit will be missed by so many.”

Others through social media mentioned Metz pushing them to follow dreams.

“You sure did make it a wonderful world,” wrote Daisy Morton, who attached a YouTube video of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” in tribute.

Metz came to Greensboro in 1973 just as he was getting out of the Air Force. His wife, Susan, was headed to graduate school at UNCG and he needed a job.

Metz, with a degree in special education, had wanted to work with the mentally disabled since high school. At the time, he wasn’t sure why. But his reasons came more into focus while in college.

During an internship at a New York mental hospital, he saw the unnamed graves of patients.

“It was unbelievable. Didn’t someone love this person?” he once said in an interview with the News & Record, while pointing to one of the small tombstones in a picture at his office. “The experience at the mental institution absolutely solidified my determination to make a difference.”

Metz was hired as a special education teacher at what was then called Kiser Junior High.

He received a master’s degree in school administration from UNCG and in 1979 was named principal at Peeler Elementary. At Peeler, he began Greensboro’s first program for the treatment and education of children with autism and communication-related disabilities as well as creating parent-education classes and a community-tutor program.

Then, he took over as principal at the new Gateway when it opened in 1983, although the school’s origins date to 1950 when it was known as the Greensboro Cerebral Palsy and Orthopedic School.

He raised more than $7 million in private and grant funds to expand Gateway and add an accessible playground.

Greensboro and Metz would get national attention over the years for education efforts.

“I’m so proud of Greensboro,” Metz once said. “They were 22 years ahead of any national legislation requiring education of disabled children. They were very progressive for the day.”

After retiring from Gateway, he worried about opportunities for children once they left the school system, and served as executive director of the nonprofit After Gateway from 2005 to 2009.

He was the co-founder and past president of Handy Capable Network, a nonprofit that employed people with disabilities to refurbish used computers.

He also served on the boards of various agencies or as a volunteer, including the Guilford County Commission on Aging, the board of directors for the Arc of Greensboro and Hospice of the Piedmont.

He brought visitors into Gateway so that they could witness the everyday feats of children there.

In 2019, when the district considered closing Gateway because of age and moving students to programs in other schools, Metz urged officials to reconsider.

And they did.

Many of those who mourned him on social media also gave testament to his legacy.

“So incredibly sad and heartbroken to hear about the passing of one amazing man,” Chris Cockerham wrote. “The man that gave me my passion for working with special needs individuals 31 years ago.”

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