Lifelong Friendships John Roberts and Daniel “Dee” McClean

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For two local dudes, it’s been more than six decades of good vibrations.

“I need to know a person for at least 20 years before calling you a friend,” John Roberts said. And at the age of 72, Roberts says he is lucky to have a handful of friends, but his friendship with Daniel “Dee” McClean is like none other, lasting more than 62 years and counting. Roberts and McClean met in the 5th grade at St. Francis de Sales at the age of 10, and have been friends ever since.

When it came time for high school, Roberts attended St. John’s Prep, and McClean attended Far Rockaway High School. Despite attending different high schools, their friendship grew due to their shared interest in sports, especially surfing. At age 14, the boys began surfing on longboards, making them the second wave of surfers to come out of Rockaway in 1964. “Dee was the best surfer on the peninsula back in the day. He had the classic California style where he would hang ten or five while riding across the waves on the beaches of Rockaway and California,” Roberts said when reflecting on their early surfing days.

The boys lived a few blocks away from each other in Belle Harbor, and would meet up for a surf session in the morning, and then go back to McClean’s house where his mother would make them a lumberjack breakfast. As their friendship grew stronger, they suddenly became a part of one another’s families. “John is a great guy from a great family. No words are more true. His parents were absolutely fabulous. His mom lived into her 90s, with a speed ticket to Heaven,” McClean said. 

After the boys graduated from high school, they went their separate ways physically, but their friendship was never put on halt. McClean joined the NYPD, and eventually was promoted to Detective First Class. Roberts attended Niagara University, and then the University of Maryland for a master’s degree in Sports Psychology, earning him his new nickname from McClean, “Dr. J.”

Although Roberts was away from Rockaway for nine years, the two continued to keep in touch. While Roberts was finishing his master’s thesis, McClean sent him a postcard from Dee from Why Beach in Sydney, Australia, signing it, “Big Dee from Down Under.” McClean’s surfing adventure inspired Roberts to save up for a surf trip to Australia in 1973-1974. “We were among the very first of the Rockaway surfers to travel and surf in Australia in our winter, their summer. It was the ‘Endless Summer,’” Roberts recalled. As Roberts prepared for the surfing trip, McClean gave him a Zodiac Sea Wolf water watch, and his backpack for Roberts’ travels. “I still have that postcard, and I still have his navy duffle bag which I kept my surf gear in during my 55-year surfing career,” Roberts said.

When Roberts and McClean settled down with families of their own, both remained in Rockaway to raise their children. Today, Roberts still lives in Rockaway all year round, exclaiming, “I don’t mind Rockaway winters, because it is a grand place!” McClean spends the winter months in Florida with his wife, Margie, and returns to the peninsula for a Rockaway “Endless Summer.” While McClean’s in Florida, he stays in touch with a weekly phone call to Roberts. And when McClean finally returns home every summer, the two pick up right where they left off, enjoying all the local spots Rockaway has to offer, like the Harbor Light, Bungalow Bar, and The Wharf.

But, of course the two can never keep themselves away from the surf. McClean volunteers much of his time to help with Robert’s AmpSurf (Association of Amputee Surfers) Program in Rockaway and Breezy Point. The two surfers continue doing what they love, while now teaching Veterans, Special Needs Athletes, as well as Persons with Disabilities Adaptive Surfing. Roberts said, “Dee has been helping me for a decade. He is my go-to guy as a volunteer instructor...Dee is a true ‘Waterman.’”

While much of Roberts and McClean’s friendship revolves around the water and the world of surfing, their friendship means much more than that. The two have truly been through it all together. “You know who your true friends are when you are injured or ill,” Roberts said. A few years ago, Roberts developed Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia, causing him to have Common Variable Immune Deficiency. This led to multiple hospitalizations for Roberts. But, he was never alone,  as McClean was always there to check up on him. “Dee would call and visit me in the hospital. When I got home, he would make sure I was OK.”

No matter the circumstance, one thing will always remain - the friendship between John Roberts and Daniel “Dee” McClean. When describing his lifelong friendship with McClean, Roberts said, “We have been blessed to like, respect, and be friends for 60+ years and counting.”

By Marina Cregan 

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