SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man who gave up a possible Hollywood movie career to teach high school theater died Saturday of complications from COVID-19 while serving as a senior missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a church spokesman said Sunday.

Elder Allen Dee Pace, 68, of Willard, Utah, an accomplished teacher, stage actor and school administrator had served with his wife, Sister Nedra Pace, in the Michigan Detroit Mission since December.

“We are saddened to share news of the passing of a senior missionary,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a statement. “Elder Pace became ill in mid-March and, shortly thereafter, went into the care of his wife and daughter in a nearby state. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early April. Elder and Sister Pace had not yet been formally released from missionary service prior to his death.

“We express our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Elder Pace as they mourn his passing, and we continue to pray for all who are impacted by this pandemic.”

Pace was profiled in the Deseret News in 1998, when with the help of his wife he overcame an angioplasty and a bad allergic reaction to direct the play “Big River” at the Heritage Theatre in Perry, Utah.

`Big River' director weathers choppiness in life's currents

At the time, his doctors told him to stop trying to live three lives.

Pace turned down a talent scout’s offer to have him meet with Clint Eastwood in the 1970s when Eastwood was filming a western in Kanab. Instead, he starred on Utah’s stages, in the lives of his students in Honeyville, Garland and Brigham City, Utah, and in his home with his wife and their six daughters.

Dee Pace, left, as Mr. Applegate, Julia Marie Bachison as Lola and Glade Cox as Joe Hardy in Heritage Theatre’s production of “Damn Yankees.” | Christine McCleve

He was the principal at Honeyville Elementary School, which closed in 2000. He taught theater arts at Bear River High School and was a vice principal at Box Elder High School. Everywhere he went, he was known for helping those who felt different, said Cody Stoddard, one of many who posted their thoughts on Facebook.

“If you were privileged enough to be one of his students you remember how he would come to school in character to read stories to the school,” Stoddard added. “I have no words on how the news has struck me.”

One former student called Pace a ”spunky, brilliant, talented, amazing man” and an incredible teacher and mentor to the insecure. Others remembered him as a sharp dresser with an infectious laugh who was an example of kindness, grace and forgiveness.

Pace was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early April and was hospitalized in Green Bay, Wisconsin, according to Facebook posts. He spent at least some of that time on a ventilator.

While hospitalized, Pace learned about the birth of a new grandson, named for him.

“Please be careful everyone,” a friend named Troy Andreasen posted on Facebook. “COVID19 is seriously real ... and the consequences truly devastating.”

“It is evident by all the outpouring of love how many people were affected by his presence,” added Janette Oyler Woolley of Pocatello, Idaho, who took drama from Pace and acted in some of his productions. “My heart goes out to Nedra and their girls. He will be sorely missed.”

Annalise Bailey Christensen expressed her sadness in the context of the pandemic.

“In the future, I know I will look back on him when I think of the coronavirus, quarantine and this pandemic,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “I know I will see him in the faces of his family, I know I will smile when I pass Box Elder High School or Heritage Theater or his home in Willard and think of him.”

Dee Pace, left, as Sancho Panza, and Barry Carter as Don Quixote in a 2007 Heritage Theatre production of “The Man of La Mancha.” | Christine McCleve

Another former student, Boyd Rogers, shared a story on social media about how Pace drew a picture on a piece of paper of all the characters Rogers had played in four years Bear River High School theater productions, then pasted it in Rogers’ senior yearbook. The characters held a banner that said, “We’ll miss you.”

Pace added an inscription:

“These people remain here with me, to encourage me, to comfort me, to give me hope and determination and to remind me of one who gave his all to me and this stage. How grateful we all are to you. Please never forget us. We love you and will keep your memory alive on the stage for the rest of its existence.”

The Deseret News profile of Pace and his direction of “Big River” in 1998 that despite Pace’s chills, fever and heart problems, the show would go on.

“Just,” it ended, “as Dee Pace plans to go on and on — and on.”