When the loss of someone dear occurs, I can’t help but stop and reflect on how the measure of our lives is mostly defined by those unique and special humans that we love and are loved by. I find that the greatest blessings God bestows are the significant relationships that we enjoy throughout our lives.
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Such was the blessing personified in Albert (“Al”) Julius Stafne, who departed planet Earth on February 11 at the age of 85.
The common theme amongst Al’s loved ones over the past several days was that Al lived out his life and left us on his own terms, almost completely avoiding the ordeal of hospitalization, nursing care, or even the all-to-common countertop chock-full of medications. He lived independently, albeit simply, focusing on nutrition and what exercise he could manage.
For many years, Al painted. The Bettendorf Public Library had the privilege of exhibiting Al’s artwork last summer, much to Al’s amusement and joy. His works were representative of Nordic mythology, in part because he is of Norwegian decent and nobility. Al’s subjects range from such nobility to warriors to religious figures, especially throughout medieval lore. Al favored the Viking warriors, whose kings fought along side their subjects in battle as great patriots and protectors of their lands and culture. Al managed to convey through his artwork the grace and dignity behind the warrior, whose pride and courage were the more important armament each fought with in the name of freedom.
The ancient methods of self-governance inspired Al to go to law school and eventually into public service. Al was the first city attorney for Bettendorf, where he served the community with distinction for more than 30 years, after which he had a successful and prestigious private practice. He is commonly known as the state’s foremost expert on annexation. (Al fought for Bettendorf’s annexation of Riverdale where Alcoa is located.) Al also formed a local board composed of doctors and lawyers to handle malpractice through arbitration and negotiation – the “art of compromise” as he frequently called it. His records and papers on important events during his career are archived at the Bettendorf Public Library and City Hall.
Al married Francis (“Jackie”) Olson and had two sons, Scott and Todd, both of whom reside in Seattle, Washington. I met Al through Todd nearly 33 years ago. We were always neighbors; living just yards from one another for most our lives. Al and my mother were great friends, as were their children with one another. The Stafnes and McCarthys are family in every sense of the word. Together we have created wonderful, sustaining memories.
Al was highly educated. He read voraciously. He was firmly grounded in the old school of established values that are the foundation of our Constitution and American heritage. He was a great patriot and a tireless advocate of Bettendorf. In his later years, his thought process expanded beyond the corporeal, believing that the human condition is but one journey to be embraced and endured until the next. Death was simply the nexus for the soul’s next path. He marveled at the aging process, and how ravaging it was. He referred to it as “his fight with gravity.” But nothing, not age or ailments, could detract from the dignity and strength of this man.
Perhaps the most engaging characteristic of Al Stafne was his contagious sense of humor. In the final analysis, it is humor that makes what is difficult bearable. How we laughed over the years. Al was scuriously witty, although ever charitable and kind, and loads of fun. He loved the social aspect of human interaction, always dressing impeccably, and conducting himself with unerring manners. Al brought eloquence and panache to every party. He was admired and well-liked by all. He was a true gentleman.
At home, he enjoyed his solitude. He wrote for enjoyment and catharsis, even penning a play about the controversial Emperor Caligula. Al’s signature was his corncob pipe, which he smoked with relish, filling the room with fine, aromatic tobaccos. He could be found on any given evening sitting out on his patio, relaxing in a comfortable pair of blue jeans and familiar tennis sweater, and wearing his favorite fishing hat while thoroughly enjoying his pipe, a beer, and nature at play around him. Al believed that blue jeans are the great leveler of society. In his earlier years, he played a lot of tennis with a competitive spirit that rivaled much younger opponents. Al also loved to fish with his dear and loyal friend Bob Gabrilson, who was never far from Al throughout the years. They often escaped to the Wapsi and fished away the hours in the peace and calm that only nature can provide.
It is difficult to summarize in this small space the enormity of Al’s contributions, both professionally and personally. He touched so many lives, influenced and enhanced so many of us. He was crazy about his vivacious, lovely wife Jackie, who died unexpectedly in 1971, an event that changed him forever. He took solace, as well as huge pride, in his two sons, Scott and Todd, both of whom reflect their father’s intense intellect, passion, and deep sense of friendship and loyalty. No one close to Al had any doubt about his love and faith in his boys; they were his life. Nor was there any doubt about his reverent faith in our Creator. He was fascinated by the human condition, and believed each of us owed something for the privilege of the journey. Al paid in full.
I believe that Al decided to leave the planet this week. He knew that gravity was winning. He left those of us who adore him with a vacancy in our hearts that no one will ever be able to fill. But that is as it should be. My life is so much more inspired and graced because of Al Stafne, and this sentiment is echoed all around me by those who knew him. Safe journey, Al.