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UPDATED: Friends, colleagues mourn loss of Stafford

A passionate and devoted leader in the community of Woodbury died during heart surgery Thursday, leaving behind numerous organizations and programs that he founded and a library that carries his name.

Dick Stafford died at St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul. He was 81 years old.

Stafford spent many years of his life working for Washington County as auditor-treasurer and county commissioner since moving to Woodbury 40 years ago. As auditor-treasurer, he created the first county license bureau with offices in Woodbury, Stillwater and Forest Lake. He founded the Woodbury Community Foundation, he played a vital role in building the Woodbury Lions Veterans Memorial and he was instrumental in getting the Woodbury ambulance service started.

"He had such passion in his life. He cared so much about counties and what their missions were," said Molly O'Rourke, deputy administrator for Washington County, who was Stafford's assistant in 1995. "He was just an exceptional public servant - tirelessly giving himself to the community."

Stafford wasn't only known for his passion for community service. His friends and former colleagues said they will always remember his sense of humor, good heart and ability to present himself as a tough bear on the outside but a puppy dog on the inside.

Mourners recalled his ability to put a smile on the faces of many who worked with him, just by saying his favorite phrase, "I have a great memory, it's just short" - or by cracking one of his Ole and Lena jokes.

When Washington County officials honored him by naming the local library R. H. Stafford, ironically, he wanted to give something back in return. So he started brainstorming new ideas and in 2003 came up with the Woodbury Community Foundation, initially called the Friends of Woodbury.

"He was a really good guy, he loved his community, he loved Washington County," said Alisa Rabin Bell, executive director of the Woodbury Community Foundation, adding, "He was a smart leader, he brought the right people together."

Stafford was also honored for his work at the county and state levels by helping obtain legislation to allow counties to accept credit card payments and by helping get a more advanced radio system used for emergency services. He was awarded the Minnesota Outstanding County Treasurer of the Year in 1982 and was chosen as Woodbury's Citizen of the Year by the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce in 1987 and 2002.

"He was very passionate about the organizations that meant so much to him," Bell said. "It's just a great loss, not just to our city and to our community but to the future."

Woodbury Council member Paul Rebholz, said he is coping with the loss of a good friend and mentor.

Stafford's involvement in Woodbury included the Yellow Ribbon Committee, Ambulance Council, American Legion, Chamber of Commerce, the Woodbury Lions Veterans Memorial Council, the Law Library Board, Public Health Advisory Committee, and more.

"There aren't too many things in Woodbury that Dick Stafford's fingerprints aren't on in one shape or form," Rebholz said.

Bill Hargis, former Woodbury mayor, was a close friend and colleague of Stafford's who worked with him on several projects since the 1980s. He said Stafford leaves behind "intangible" gifts to the community that he brought on with his positive, can-do attitude.

"He can make things happen, he knew who to get involved to get things happen," he said.

As a Woodbury resident serving on the Washington County Board, Stafford was able to get his Woodbury constituents involved in many of the county and statewide issues, Hargis said, as well as local businesses and the private sector.

"You get criticism of public officials that they don't understand what it's like in the real world," he said. "He did understand what the real world was like."

The Woodbury Community Foundation has created the Dick Stafford Memorial Fund at his personal request and the request of his family. The purpose of the fund will be determined by Stafford's family in the near future. Checks can be made out to the Woodbury Community Foundation with "Dick Stafford Memorial" written in the memo line.

Stafford was divorced and is survived by his son Bruce and his daughter Pamela.

Visitation will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 2 at Wulff Woodbury Funeral Home. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, March 3 at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Woodbury.

"The community will miss him and we certainly appreciate and should not take for granted all that he's done for our community," Hargis said. "I will miss him as a friend and a mentor."

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.