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Remembering Dan Steward: A man who chose to unite

Waterford — Recent tributes to the late Dan Steward have hit all the prototypical notes — great guy, family man — surely words to properly illustrate the good life lived of a wholly honorable man.

Lest we allow Steward's life to rollick conveniently through well-meaning cliches, however, his passing cannot endure another minute without recognition that Dan Steward was more. So, so much more.

Dan Steward was a beacon in his professional vocation, a man who chose to unite amid snowballing political and social climates of incivility and polarization. It cannot be understated that Steward's road not taken was the easier, more convenient avenue of agenda-driven rhetoric that reinforced the echo chamber's predispositions and prejudices.

Dan Steward never, ever abandoned his ideals. It's just that he maintained them with inimitable modesty and propriety, the very essence of leadership.

Straight up: If more of us in the public eye did our jobs with Dan Steward's decency, with his belief that it's more of "us" at the end of every day than "them," we'd all be singing like the Von Trapps instead of yelling like the Sopranos.

I never got the chance to tell Dan how much I learned from him. And appreciated him. His public persona was so measured. I don't know how he did it. Our jobs are similar in that everybody else knows how to do them better than we do. Somebody always has a complaint. A suggestion. You must always be "on." The attention is enviable. But sometimes, the attention is a pain in the ascot.

I'd watch people interrupt Dan and his wife, Kathy, in a million social situations. Dan always maintained eye contact with the inquisitor. He'd nod appreciatively. It was a gift.

Dan was a beacon in the political atmosphere because he accepted the literal translation of the job: First Selectman of the Town of Waterford. He was not First Selectman of Only Those Who Share His Viewpoints In The Town of Waterford. Dan maintained staunch Republican ideals, to be sure. But if you were good for Waterford, if you contributed something to make the 06385 a better place, Dan always left the light on for you.

It's why I believe few other towns among us have Waterford's espirit de corps. Between the Cactus Jack Foundation and Waterford Youth Services alone, Waterford's record of helping people — particularly in Steward's 14 years as First Selectman — is unmatched.

I got to known Dan in a million different places, probably beginning at Waterford High sporting events. Nobody else liked to see the "X" filled more than he did. He attended just about everything. And yet managed to blend in. He never mugged for cameras or called attention to his presence. He was the centerpiece of the room for sure, but much like comfortable old recliner.

Dan left us at 71. He never had the time to enjoy retirement the way he deserved. But his passing has to stand for more than some momentary sadness and a few bromides. We need to learn from his example. Especially in today's polarized climate.

There is much to be said about Steward's efficacy as a First Selectman, most notably the ability to build new schools and keep taxes from increasing. But the bigger takeaway from Steward's contribution to our corner of the world was his dignity. You could agree to disagree with him and not have it turn into a Steel Cage match.

Waterford stays in good hands now with Rob Brule, who learned under Steward. It's why the town stays in envy of the region for many different reasons. But it wouldn't be the loyal, stately hamlet it's become without such an honorable man leading it for 14 years.

Dan Steward might get remembered by some for his political affiliation. I'll remember him as the dignified man who embraced the public eye. I'll remember him every time another "suggestion" comes my way.

What should I be saying?

What should I be doing?

I'll just think of this: How would Dan handle it?

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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