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Former Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward dies

Waterford — Dano, Stew, Stewie, Dad and Papa.

Known by many names, former First Selectman Dan Steward, 71, died Sunday night of a malignant brain tumor after being ill for several weeks.

His wife, Kathy Steward, said he died peacefully at home, surrounded by his loved ones. She said they had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary when he was diagnosed in July and he remained his "kind, gentle self" throughout the duration of his sickness.

"The man people would see in a committee or a meeting is the man I would go home to," she said.

Steward served 14 years as the town's first selectman, the longest tenure in town history, beginning in 2005 and ending in  2019 when he retired.

During his time as first selectman, Steward oversaw the construction of a new $16 million municipal complex, the construction of four new schools, the substanial decline in tax revenue from the Millstone Nuclear Power Station and the opening of pivotal businesses such as Yale New Haven/Lawrence + Memorial Hospital's Cancer Center and the F.W. Webb.

Prior to that he served on the Representative Town Meeting, Board of Education and served as Chairman of the Board in 2012 for the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments.

Waterford Schools Superintendent Thomas Giard said Steward "truly cared about our school."

"Dan was always quick to offer a kind work or a helping hand even after he retired, and he will be remembered for his thoughtful presence and dedication," said Giard.

Before he was first selectman, Steward also worked at Southern New England Telephone for 28 years and at Millstone Power Station for three.

But before anything else, those who knew him said Steward was a family man.

Steward was father to four daughters — Danielle, Heather, Katie and Elizabeth — and grandfather to nine grandchildren.

Danielle Steward-Gelinas, his eldest daughter, said she remembers when her father sat them down before running for first selectman, warning them he could start to miss birthdays and school events.

"He never missed a thing," she said through tears. "If it was important to us, he was always there."

Steward-Gelinas said it was because of him that she chose to serve on the RTM.

Arrangements for his funeral and memorial will be announced at a later date, she said.

"Dan, as devoted he was to the town, was devoted to his family," said William "Bill" Stanley, retired vice president for development and community relations at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.

Stanley, friends with Steward for more than 10 years, said he always marvelled at who Steward was and his unique ability to balance his family and public life.

Mike Buscetto III, owner of Filomena's restaurant in town, said he has been a friend of Steward's for decades, recalling the many times he would see him at the restaurant eating dinner with his grandchildren and family.

Buscetto honored the former first selectman on Oct. 3 with a fundraiser called "Cans for Dan," raising food for the Waterford Community Food Bank.

Buscetto said the restaurant did it as a way to show Steward the town loved and supported him, assuring him that his legacy for taking care of people will live on.

Politicians of both parties in the region sent their condolences to his family and reflected on the impact he had on their political and personal lives.

First Selectman Rob Brule, who served on the Board of Selectman with Steward, said it was a privilege to know him, serve with him and succeed him in the first selectman's office.

"Dan will always be remembered for his kindness, commitment and devotion to the Town of Waterford and its residents," he said.

Brule has ordered all flags in town to be flown at half-staff in the coming week in memory of his predecessor.

Democratic Selectwoman Beth Sabilia said she always saw Steward first as a neighbor, living in the same neighborhood and walking around in his Hawaiian shirts.

"No matter how much I would push him, he would never get mad," said Sabilia. "He was an old-fashioned politican who stayed true to himself."

State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, the Republican town committee chair, said Steward was an exemplary leader for the town in every sense and has left his "indelible mark" on it.

New London Mayor Michael Passero, a Democrat, said it was a privilege to work with Steward during his years as first selectman, calling him a "true friend" of the city.

"New London mourns with the Town of Waterford and the Steward family on this great loss to us all," said Passero.

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-20th District, said he viewed Steward as a mentor, working closely with him when Formica was East Lyme first selectman from 2007 to 2015.

"Dan was my friend who always was there for me and my family in both good and dark times," he said. "Like most people, my life was enriched by knowing the Stewards and I will miss him."

j.vazquez@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version contains a quote from the superintendent of schools and information about flags at half-mast in Mr. Steward's honor.

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