Dan and Rose Riley, longtime Wallingford residents, died from injuries suffered in a car accident Thursday. Mr. Riley was a former administrator of the Seattle School District and was in charge of its 1978 busing program.

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When Dan Riley was faced with the issue of desegregating Seattle schools, he let his conscience guide him and became one of the leaders who made the Seattle School District one of the first large urban districts in the nation to undertake a desegregation plan without a court order.

Mr. Riley, 91, and his wife, Rose, 93, both died Thursday when the station wagon he was driving suddenly accelerated and struck a tree at North 34th Street and Burke Avenue North.

Both were taken to Harborview Medical Center and died of their injuries within a few hours of each other.

The Rileys leave behind six surviving children, 10 grandchildren and, for Mr. Riley, hundreds of former students who considered him a beloved and inspirational teacher.

Mr. Riley graduated from what was then Seattle College (now Seattle University), taught history and social studies at Port Townsend High School and in the mid-1950s began teaching at Ballard High School in Seattle.

He would teach through some of the most controversial times in the district as it faced the challenge of trying to desegregate Seattle schools.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Riley became the district’s director of student placement, in charge of the busing program.

“Everyone had mixed feelings about busing,” said his oldest child, Jim Riley, of Seattle.

“He realized (achieving racial balance) was a problem and a challenge,” but worked hard and long to make it work, his son said. “It was a challenging job.”

When busing began in 1978, Mr. Riley told The Seattle Times that the protests weren’t what district officials had anticipated.

“We haven’t had any screamers,” he said at the time. “We’ve had some seethers — a stew kind of boiling — but no significant tantrums.”

By 1980, the Seattle School District was busing 20,000 students daily, much of it to achieve racial balance in the schools as part of a decadelong social experiment that eventually fell out of favor.

Mr. Riley was born June 5, 1920, in Selah, Yakima County, and served in the Army in World War II.

Mrs. Riley was born Rose Pogliano to Italian immigrants on May 10, 1919, in Twin Bridges, Mont. She walked more than three miles to a one-room school and defied her mother’s wishes by going on to high school instead of working on the farm, her children said.

She went to nursing school and during World War II served in Europe treating the wounded after the Normandy invasion. She later came to Seattle and became a nurse for Swedish Hospital.

The Rileys met through a mutual friend, and married in 1948.

For most of their married life, they lived in a now white, but once “sunshine yellow” Craftsman home in Wallingford, a home, purchased for $14,000, that slowly enlarged from two bedrooms to one capable of accommodating their large family, Jim Riley said.

It was a home created for “pure function and not style,” he said. But it was typical of the Wallingford of that era — a blue-collar neighborhood teeming with large families and streets full of children.

Mrs. Riley quit nursing after her marriage. “We didn’t have much,” said Kathy Riley of Seattle, but the family was rich in other ways — life lessons and love, she said.

The Riley children say they often ran in to their father’s former students — some from many years back — when they were with him.

“They always say what a special teacher he was,” Kathy Riley said. After Mr. Riley’s 1982 retirement, her parents volunteered at their church, took trips around the Northwest, worked on their house and spent time being grandparents.

“Both exhibited tremendous integrity and grace in everything they did,” Kathy Riley said.

In addition to their son and daughter Jim and Kathy, the Rileys are survived by children Mary Riley and Maggie Windus, both of Woodinville; and Chris Williams and Tom Riley, both of Seattle. The Rileys were preceded in death by son Johnny.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Benedict Catholic Church. In lieu of flowers, remembrances can be made to St. Benedict Catholic School, 4811 Wallingford Ave N., Seattle, 98103.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @BartleyNews.