IRVINE : A Fairy-Tale End to Years of Service

Recently retired elementary school Principal Gene Bedley once dreamed that someone had painted a large mural filled with characters from his favorite children's books.

Bedley's dream came true at a weekend celebration honoring his 20 years as an Irvine principal and his national role in restoring ethics and values to the public school curriculum. John F. Dean, superintendent of the Orange County Department of Education, was among the educational dignitaries and community members who attended the event.

The three-paneled, 4-by-8-foot mural is the work of Irvine resident Valerie Naletko Gray, who began the project five years ago after a chance meeting with Bedley. A former elementary school teacher, Gray was discussing her love of children's literature when Bedley told her of his dream.

"I had never picked up a paintbrush, but at that moment, I would have done anything for him," Gray said.

Bedley, 56, principal of El Camino Real Elementary School for 20 years, has that kind of effect on people, parents say.

"I am truly convinced that Gene Bedley is one of God's angels," said parent Audrey Wegner, whose three children attended the school during the past 11 years. "He has been an inspiration for millions of parents."

An educator for 32 years, Bedley was named Educator of the Year in 1985 by the National PTA and was the recipient last year of a $25,000 National Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation. He is the author of 12 books, is considered a pioneer in the "value-based" education movement and helped create the city's first code of ethics last December.

"He's beloved," said 12-year Irvine school board member Mary Ellen Hadley.

In the center of the poster-paint and watercolor mural is the spider's web from "Charlotte's Web" by E. B. White. The words "Gene's Dream" are woven into the web.

"I was overwhelmed that anybody would do this for me," Bedley said.

"It was one of those dreams where it seemed beyond the realm of possibility."

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