AUGUSTA, Maine — Hundreds gathered Tuesday for a service commemorating the life of longtime legislator and former Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky, who died Aug. 10 at the age of 57, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Gwadosky was remembered for his public service as well as his humor and wit and his devotion to his family in a ceremony that lasted a bit under two hours at the Augusta Civic Center. The crowd was packed with current and former state officials and legislators from both parties, and included U.S. Reps. Mike Michuad and Chellie Pingree and former Govs. John Baldacci and Angus King, both of whom spoke.
Gwadosky, a Democrat, was Maine’s 46th Secretary of State, serving from 1997-2005. He took over as director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations in 2005. He served 18 years in the Maine House of Representatives, was speaker of the house from 1994 to 1996 and also held positions as assistant majority floor leader and house majority leader.
A mini-museum of his political career greeted the roughly 400 guests outside the service, featuring a collection of Gwadosky bumper stickers and campaign pins — some hand-painted. There were a number of photos and newspaper and magazine clippings showing the Fairfield native with various figures, from Baldacci to former President Bill Clinton and comedian Jay Leno.
Former Attorney General Steven Rowe spoke about Gwadosky’s life, how he took after his mother for her love of politics and community service. He first ran for the house at age 23, Rowe said, a low-budget affair that had him knocking on doors and suffering a few blisters and dog bites. The run was so low-budget, Rowe said, that Gwadosky had spray-painted over some old campaign buttons from a past Bill Hathaway run for Senate, writing “Gwadosky” over them.
As speaker of the house, said Rowe, Gwadosky had a “masterful talent for consensus building.”
“He made everyone feel important, because he believed that they were,” said Rowe. “That was Dan Gwadosky.”
While in the Legislature, Gwadosky led the creation of the Maine Community College System and the Finance Authority of Maine, said Rowe. As Secretary of State, he made state services more accessible through technology and shepherded legislation that required a graduated approach to youth drivers’ licenses.
Baldacci spoke about how his own father had died of cancer, and urged Gwadosky’s wife and children to take solace in their strong family connections. He, like several of the speakers, remembered Gwadosky’s humor.
At one point during the government shutdown in the early 1990s, an angry state representative was addressing Gwadosky. The lawmaker was angry because the Legislature kept being called back into emergency sessions, and it had gotten so bad that he didn’t have any clean clothes and didn’t know what he would do.
Gwadosky, Baldacci recalled, responded from the rostrum, “It would be much easier if you separate the lights from the darks.”
King said Gwadosky was the funniest man he had ever met, and had given him lots of advice when he first took over the governor’s office. He was also truly dedicated to the idea that government was an instrument of the people, to make the lives of those people better, said King. It is fashionable for some these days to cast government service as an oxymoron, said King.
“Dan Gwadosky was a living, breathing, walking refutation of that idea,” he said.
Rowe spoke of Gwadosky’s connection with his wife of 31 years, Cheryl, and of the joy he had playing golf with his son, Joshua. And in the last two months of his life, after battling cancer for the better part of a year, he secretly took ballroom dancing lessons so he could have a waltz with his daughter, Jessica, who had minored in dance at the University of Maine.
Gwadosky surprised his daughter with that waltz the week before he died.