Woodbury lost one of its longtime leaders and most prominent citizens Thursday when Dick Stafford died at St. Joseph’s Hospital after complications during open-heart surgery. He was 81.
Friends, family members and colleagues said he was a pillar of the community, advocating for Woodbury, connecting people and making the city a better place.
Bruce Stafford said his father had been taken to the hospital earlier this week and was suffering from ongoing heart issues.
“Up until last night he was being Richard Stafford,” Bruce said. “He was giving me a hard time and picking on the nurses.”
Bruce said his father instilled in him the importance of public service.
“He was a hell of a father and I loved him dearly,” Bruce said.
Former Woodbury Mayor Bill Hargis talked about Stafford as a mentor and friend. The two share the same birthday, April 14. “That was always a special bond,” he said.
That didn’t mean they agreed on everything, but Hargis said they were always able to maintain a congenial relationship.
“We agreed to disagree on a few things without being disagreeable,” Hargis said.
Hargis said he will remember Stafford’s work in the community, including efforts to establish the city’s ambulance service and getting the Veterans Memorial built, and at the county level as auditor and treasurer.
“He always rolled up his sleeves and did the work,” Hargis said. “He will be missed, but his work and the lives he touched will live on for many years.”
“He was an amazing servant,” she said. “He had a servant heart more than anybody I ever met. He was so dedicated to our community.”
“I had the utmost respect for him,” she said. “I always felt that he was passionate about the right things. He was just a downright good guy.”
“I miss him already,” she said. “My life is richer because he was a part of it.”
Darrin Ewing, chair of the Woodbury Yellow Ribbon Network, said Stafford was a strong supporter of local military members.
“What a sad, sad loss for our community,” Ewing said. “What a dynamic person, and a great mentor, as well.”
Stafford served in World War II and had a brother killed in action during the Korean War, Ewing said. “This is truly a sad day,” he said.
Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel said Stafford was committed to his work on the county board.
“He thoroughly enjoyed his job,” Kriesel said. “He was a solid public servant and he was a throwback to the days when it was all about compromise.”
No matter what came up on the Washington County Board of Commissioners, Stafford never wavered for the sake of popularity, Kriesel said.
“He always said, ‘I’m not counting votes on this,’” Kriesel said. “He always had the best interests of the county at heart. I always felt confident that he had the pulse of the community."
Dixie Ewing, a member of the Woodbury Community Foundation Board, said the city “has lost a grandfather.”
Stafford was one of the original founders of Friends of Woodbury, which became the Woodbury Community Foundation, Dixie said. “He was just a rock for us,” she said.
“I’m going to miss his smile and the way he connected people,” she said. “He knew everybody and everybody loved him.”
Kathy Saltzman, a Woodbury resident and former state senator, said Stafford was open-minded and had a great sense of humor.
“There are many people who made a difference in Woodbury,” she said. “But I think of him as the heart and soul of the city.”
Stafford always had “a twinkle in his eye,” Saltzman said, and worked for the common good. Even when they disagreed on a matter, such as school boundaries, Saltzman said Stafford worked to create an atmosphere of consensus and brought people of different opinions together.
“Sometimes, you need people who are going to give you a little nudge, and with Dick, he was trusted by so many people,” she said. “People respected him and always knew that he had the best interests of the city at heart.”
Like so many others, Saltzman said she will miss Stafford.
“The challenge to the next generation is, who will step up to take his place?” she said.