George Dimitroff

Psychologist embodied Christian values

  • April 26, 2020

The first COVID-19 death in the Peterborough, Ont., area took a man of faith and service who helped thousands of kids with learning disabilities and mental health issues.

George Dimitroff, 69, died April 12 of complications caused by COVID-19 at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre. For 27 years, he served as school psychologist for the Peterborough-Victoria-Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board, a role he pioneered.

As a young teacher, Christine Brodie met Mr. Dimitroff 20 years ago. Five days after his death she described him as a man of “incredible faith.”

“He didn’t only demonstrate that in his own faith community. It was evident in his day-to-day interactions with others,” she said. “He was respectful; he modelled those Christian values we stand on. That comes into the whole picture.”

The whole picture is of a man of patience, empathy and professional competence.

“There’s an art form in being able to engage with kids positively and have them trust you, especially these kids,” Brodie said.

Those listening skills extended to parents and teachers searching for answers. Parent-teacher meetings with Mr. Dimitroff were never about the psychological classification of kids, but focused on positive ways parents and teachers could help the child.

“You could go back (from a meeting with Mr. Dimitroff) and you felt confident enough that you could go back and support that child in the classroom,” Brodie said.

Mr. Dimitroff had a  PhD from the University of Toronto but never separated himself from the teachers standing between a blackboard and the kids.

“George was always in the schools. He certainly had an office, but he was in schools working with students and teachers all the time,” said Brodie.

Brodie’s professional relationship with Mr. Dimitroff deepened over the years as she moved up from classroom duties to a board-wide role as a special education resource teacher and then as principal at St. Anne’s Catholic Elementary School in Peterborough.

“George could listen intently for a very long period of time and I knew he was taking in all kinds of information to make some kind of a conclusion at the end of it,” she said. “His calm demeanor put people at ease. For these kids, that’s so important. He also built that trust with them so that he could then serve them better.”

Mr. Dimitroff was an avid photographer who participated in Peterborough’s annual SPARK Photo Festival. It was one of the ways he was enjoying retirement since 2012.

He leaves behind his wife Sheila and children Leah Salvage, Trina Steward and Matthew Dimitroff. He was a grandfather of three. A memorial to Dimitroff will wait until after the COVID-19 crisis.

“For me, this was my first personal connection to this pandemic,” said Brodie. “Just a loss, you know? I know he was enjoying his retirement. He was only in his 60s and a very healthy and active person. I’m very sad for his family.”

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