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Roy Lester, former Maryland football coach and Montgomery County legend, dies of coronavirus complications

Maryland football coach Roy Lester greets some 90 candidates for the Terps football team which began fall practice Sept. 1, 1969, with a picture day on campus. (Paul Hutchins/Baltimore Sun)
Maryland football coach Roy Lester greets some 90 candidates for the Terps football team which began fall practice Sept. 1, 1969, with a picture day on campus. (Paul Hutchins/Baltimore Sun)(Hutchins/Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

Former Maryland football coach Roy Lester, a revered high school coach in Montgomery County, died Sunday in Rockville of complications caused by the coronavirus, his family said. He was 96.

Born in Reedy, West Virginia on Oct. 3, 1923, he was the son of Elva Roy and his wife, Sybil. He was a graduate of Spencer High School and went to West Virginia and played football, basketball, baseball and ran track. In the middle of his college years, he was called to serve in the Navy at Pearl Harbor Naval Base in Hawaii.

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Mr. Lester spent three seasons at Maryland from 1969 to 1971, going 7-25 before being relieved of his duties. During his tenure, 13 of his recruits went on to play in the NFL, most notably Dallas Cowboys star defensive end Randy White.

After graduating from West Virginia with a degree in political science, Mr. Lester briefly played for the Philadelphia Eagles’ farm team, the Patterson Panthers, in the American Football League. He began his coaching career in 1950 with a two-year stint at Walton High in West Virginia before moving to Allegany High in Cumberland.

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Before his time at Maryland, Mr. Lester made his mark coaching at Richard Montgomery, where he went 86-10-1 in 10 years with six undefeated seasons in the 1960s. It was there that he coached Baltimore Colts All-Pro linebacker Mike Curtis, who died April 20 at the age of 77.

Mr. Lester was hired in 1968 to coach at Maryland, inheriting a program that won only two of 19 games over the previous two years.

Mr. Lester guided the Terps to a 3-7 record in his first year and went 2-9 in each of the next two seasons before being fired. He was followed by Jerry Claiborne, who led Maryland to seven bowl games over 10 seasons.

In a Twitter post, current Maryland coach Mike Locksley said of Mr. Lester: “He came up the ranks as a high school coach and took over during a tumultuous time. He laid the solid foundation for the Claiborne era.”

After leaving Maryland, Mr. Lester returned to the high school ranks at Paint Branch (1972-1978) and then Magruder (1979-1993), leading Paint Branch to the Class B state championship in 1975 and Magruder to the Class B state championship in 1984 and the Class A state title in 1986.

When he retired in 1993, Lester had won 260 games at the high school level.

Football coach Roy Lester in his office at Magruder High School in Rockville on Nov. 19, 1986. (Nora Gruner/Baltimore Sun)
Football coach Roy Lester in his office at Magruder High School in Rockville on Nov. 19, 1986. (Nora Gruner/Baltimore Sun)(Gruner/Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

His son, Tom, described his father as a hands-on coach with a sensational personality that was suited for public speaking.

“My dad was a molder of men. He loved his players — he never cut anybody,” Tom Lester said. “He trusted his players and was almost like a father figure to them. He just inspired people to want to go out and win.”

In 2002, Richard Montgomery named its athletic stadium after Mr. Lester and he was a charter member when the school created an Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012. He was inducted into the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

The school’s athletic director, Jon Freda, an alumnus who played football in the late 1990s, said Mr. Lester “had a God-like myth to him when it came to coaching football” that spread across all of Montgomery County.

“As a young football player, you always heard about Coach Lester and how good his teams were,” said Mr. Freda, who has been the school’s AD since 2010. “And you would meet football players that played for him and you never heard a bad thing about Coach Lester. More to that, everybody spoke highly of him.”

Mr. Lester remained involved with Richard Montgomery football until recent months, attending the team’s annual charity golf tournament last spring. In October, his son said that his father suffered a broken leg that started his slide.

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“He had a rough time the last year,” Tom Lester said. “What I get sad about is how people on Facebook and people I’ve known my whole life have reacted and how sad they are. That’s what really gets me because he made lifelong great relationships with all his players.”

Later this week, Mr. Lester will be buried at Rockville Cemetery — less than 2 miles from Richard Montgomery — with only close family members at the ceremony. After the state’s social-distancing restrictions are lifted, the family plans to celebrate his life with a gathering at Roy Lester Stadium.

Coach Lester’s daughter, Amy Lester Greco, said in a Facebook post: “How blessed I am to have been his only daughter. I am not a perfect person but everything good about me came from this beautiful man.”

Survivors include two other sons, Roy Jr. and Christopher, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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