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Former Rep. Pat Beard leaves quiet legacy

Pat Beard died from complications due to Agent Orange exposure Feb. 7. (Bulletin file photo) 1 / 2
Pat Beard had a visit from the family of his lung donor last summer. Pictured are donor Steve Kleczynski's two daughters with Beard. (Bulletin file photo by Katie Nelson)2 / 2

Former state Rep. Pat Beard of Cottage Grove, who died last week, is being remembered for his decades of service to his state and country.

The south Washington County native served in the Navy in 1968-69 during the Vietnam War. He was exposed to the chemical Agent Orange while in Vietnam, and had complications due to the exposure later in life, eventually leading to his Feb. 7 death. He was 69.

After returning home, Beard married his wife Sharon and bought a home in Cottage Grove.

He won a Minnesota House race in the 1982 election and served from 1983-1994, taking the seat of long-time friend and fellow Democrat Mike Sieben, who had stepped down.

"Pat and I were dear friends for a long time," Sieben said recently. "He helped me get elected, and then I helped him, and then he turned around and helped my daughter Katie."

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.

Sieben said three things come to mind when he thinks of Beard: loyalty, courage and a sense of humor.

"The first word that came to mind is loyalty," he said. "He's incredibly loyal, not just to his family and friends, but also to United States. He's a proud U.S. veteran."

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.

In a 2014 Bulletin interview, Pat Beard said of his service in Vietnam: "It was an adventure, and I don't mean like a nice adventure."

Beard did not talk much to others about the recognition he received for his military service.

"He had a quiet courage that was unparalleled," Sieben said. "He never talked about it ... never wanted recognition, never talked about himself. He always wanted to help others."

Something Beard did become well-known for was his sense of humor.

"He had a dry, quiet sense of humor," he said. "He loved to play tricks and pranks on his kids, family and colleagues, even up at the state legislature. His tricks were well known."

Three more years

In 2013, Beard was hours from death when he received a lung transplant. The lung allowed him to live for three more years, and during that time he connected with the donor's family.

Lung donor Steve Kleczynski's mother and daughters became close to Beard and his family.

Kleczynski's family came to visit Beard and his family last summer, and Beard at the time described his newfound connection with them as having "a whole new family."

Jill Harris, Kleczynski's mother, said she and her family members felt the same way.

"You could never truly explain the connection," Beard's son Tim said in August. "It would be impossible to put it into words."

Sieben recalled Beard's surgery and health struggles, saying he went through it all with a "quiet dignity."

"All throughout that he just had dignity and a sense of humor that everyone marvelled at," he said. "He's one of the type of guys that never complained, even though he went through incredible challenges."

Beard is survived by his wife Sharon, children Shawn, Mike, David and Tim, and grandchildren.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service, of which the Bulletin is a member.