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Updated: Woodbury Loses Pillar of the Community in Dick Stafford

The former county commissioner who was involved in many aspects of the city died Thursday at 81.

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.”

Alisa Rabin Bell, executive director of the , which Stafford helped found, said she will miss his leadership.

“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.”

Bell recalled Stafford’s involvement with the , , Lions Club and several other organizations.

“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.”

Bell said Stafford was smart and generous, even to the point that when he heard there was a movement to name the after him, he said. “What can I give back?”

“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.

Visitation will be held from 3-8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 2, at Funeral Home. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. on Thursday, March 3, at .

Kimberly Snyder February 25, 2011 at 01:15 AM
The community lost a pillar today. He was an amazing man who I am privilegded to have known and collaborated with. His legacy will live on for decades to come. My life was changed and enriched because I knew him and I know I'm one of thousands who feel that way. May he rest in peace.
Dick Hanson February 25, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Dick's spirit will live on through the many he touched and taught how to love our community.
Scott Richardson February 25, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Dick Stafford was a great supporter of youth based programs. He was a strong advocate for the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and our committment to community servcie. He loved being involved with our cadets and they gave him energy! We were honored to be able to spend what time we had with him. On behalf of the St. Croix Squadron our condolences go out to his family.
Tonya Holt | Primrose School of Woodbury February 26, 2011 at 09:54 PM
I was blessed to have met Mr. Stafford a few months ago, it was sharing a table with a super star. I don't believe any one of us can take his place; together perhaps we can fill the void his departure has created. It's a good thing Dick left such a solid path. Blessings to Dick's family during this difficult time.
Gary L. spooner February 27, 2011 at 03:25 AM
I first met Dick when he was selling milk for the All Jersey Milk Company and I was managing a grocery store. We hooked up again when I was the owner/publisher of the Bulletin Newspapers and Dick was going to run for Washington County Treasurer in 1976. We supported him in every election held when I owned the newspapers. We went on some golf trips trading quips and jokes on and off the course. I called many a politician "barnacle on the ass of progress" editorially but the phrase would never fit Dick. Dick always said, "don't get into an argument with Spooner because he buys ink by the barrel". He was a very progressive public figure who saw the future and helped the citizens of Woodbury and Washington County prepare for it. I will truly miss him and wish his family the best for they should be very proud of him and his accomplishments. Gary L. Spooner

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