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Former Minnesota legislator and Vietnam vet exposed to Agent Orange, has died

Patrick Beard, 69, a former state representative from Cottage Grove, died Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 of complications related to exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant used in the Vietnam War. (Courtesy photo)

COTTAGE GROVE, Minn.—Pat Beard, a former state representative from Cottage Grove, died Tuesday of complications related to exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant used in the Vietnam War.

He was 69.

"His death was brought on as a result of his loyalty to his country," said Mike Sieben, who left his Minnesota legislator's post in 1982 and was followed by Beard.

"Pat was a proud Democrat," Sieben said. "But more important than that, he was a proud American."

Beard grew up in St. Paul Park, lived in Cottage Grove and graduated from St. Paul Park High School in 1965.

He joined the U.S. Navy in 1968 and fought for 18 months in combat zones, according to Sieben.

"It was an adventure, and I don't mean like a nice adventure," Beard recalled in an interview with the Woodbury Bulletin in 2014.

Beard fought as a member of the Navy Seabees and the Navy Seals and earned three Bronze Stars and one Silver Star for heroism.

In Vietnam, he saw U.S. Air Force planes flying overhead, spraying Agent Orange to kill the forests that were hiding enemy soldiers. "He talked about it coming down on him in a fine mist," said Beard's son Tim, who lives in Woodbury.

Beard then returned to Cottage Grove, earned a degree from the University of Minnesota and worked in a local steel mill.

In 1982, voters picked him to be a state legislator — for the first of his six terms in office.

"He had friends on both sides of the aisle," said Sieben. At one point, Beard was the chairman of the Labor Committee.

Former Washington County Commissioner Myra Peterson recalled Beard as a legislator who put his own district before his political party.

"On some issues he would stand up and say, 'That is not for my district,' even when Democrats wanted it," Peterson said.

Beard's breathing gradually worsened, and in 2013 he was repeatedly hospitalized with lung failure. He carried tanks of oxygen with him to help his breathing.

Sieben said Beard was "within hours of death" when University of Minnesota doctors were able to transplant a lung into his body.

Going into the surgery, Beard asked his family to say a prayer for the lung donor, according to son Tim.

Afterward, Beard visited the Michigan family of the lung donor to thank them. "That just says everything about the guy," said Tim Beard.

Linda Johnston, a neighbor for 35 years, recalled how considerate Beard was.

Beard was honored at one of the Minnesota Twins' Military Mondays observances on Aug. 18, 2014, according to the South Washington County Bulletin.

A few weeks ago, Johnston's husband was rushed to the hospital via ambulance. When the family returned home, Beard — a wheezing 69-year-old with a transplanted lung — had shoveled their driveway.

"It was 20 below that day," said Johnston. "He was a good friend and good neighbor. I will miss him a lot."

Beard is survived by wife Sharon; sons Shawn, Michael, David and Tim; mother Rosemary; siblings Mary Rose Madland, Theresa Joyce, John Beard, Toni Beard and Margaret Ravn; and 11 grandchildren.

A funeral gathering will be beginning at 9 a.m. Feb. 15 at St. Rita's Catholic Church, 8694 80th St. S., Cottage Grove, followed by a funeral Mass at 11 a.m.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.