Former Washington County civic leader Dick Stafford remembered
A passionate and devoted leader in the community of Woodbury died during heart surgery Thursday morning, 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, according to family and friends. 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 founded the Woodbury ambulance service.
"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 out of nowhere.
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.
"The things that meant something to him, man he was just passionate about," Bell said. "It's just a great loss, not just to our city and to our community but to the future. He was such a dynamic leader and he did so much that he's gonna be really missed."