It was reported yesterday that former Republican Rep. Dan Schaefer died on Sunday after a battle with cancer. I’ll let the Rocky Mountain News tell more about his legacy:

Schaefer, 70, was the first person to represent the fast-growing, Littleton-area district. He won a 1983 special election after the first man elected, astronaut Jack Swigert, died before he could take office…

…Schaefer served in the House minority for much of his career, until Republicans seized control in 1994. His 16-year career in Congress came at a time when his Littleton-area district was experiencing unparalleled growth and Colorado’s upstart telecommunications industry was being born.

“If you look at the legislation he was most interested in, you can tell the accelerated growth of this area really drove a lot of his legislative intent,” said his former district director, Andree Krause. Krause considers highway C-470 Schaefer’s longest-lasting legacy. He helped secure money for the highway…

…Gov. Bill Owens said, “Anyone elected to office can learn from the example of dedication and integrity shown by Dan Schaefer.”…

…Schaefer retired from Capitol Hill in 1998, deciding he had done everything he had set out to do.

“He felt he’d gone to Congress to strengthen national defense and help end the Cold War, and he did,” Krause said. “He felt that had been accomplished. He also felt he wanted to put Congress on a more stable fiscal footing, and he did. He was everyman’s congressperson.”

I grew up in the area that Schaefer represented, and while I don’t know much about his legacy as a congressman, I don’t personally remember hearing too many negative words about him. Some of that is probably due to the fact that his wife, Mary, was a teacher of mine in fourth or fifth grade, but he always seemed to be a genuinely good man.

When I was in fifth grade, I went to Washington D.C. with a group of classmates for about a week. Among the sites we toured was the Capitol building, and Rep. Schaefer gave us a personal tour and ate lunch with us in the private congressional dining room. That tour was one of the highlights of the trip, and I still remember it well. It was great fun to eat lunch with my fellow elected officials (I was the student council treasurer at the time), and to a group of fifth graders it was a big deal to feel as though we were getting to peek behind the curtain a little bit.

I thought about that day in Washington D.C. when I first read the news that Rep. Schaefer had died. Now that I’m older and more involved with politics, elected officials often take on a different appearance to me; I see more of the motives and logic behind their actions, and the mystique is largely gone. But as a fifth grade student, walking with Rep. Schaefer in the underground tunnels beneath the Capitol as we made our way to the lunchroom, the wonder and awe were very much alive for me. It’s still a nice memory, and I hope Rep. Schaefer knows that I was reminded of it in his passing.

Thanks, and farewell.