In the aftermath of the Jan. 8 attack that took his life and those of five others, Dorwan Stoddard has been hailed as a hero by the public, the press and the president of the United States.
The story of how Stoddard covered his wife’s body with his own, shielding Mavy from the gunman’s bullets that ripped through the crowd at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event, has been told around the world. But one of the men who knew him best – Stoddard’s pastor, Mike Nowak – said at a Sunday afternoon memorial service that his best friend’s final act didn’t make him a hero. Rather, it was a lifetime of selfless acts.
Dorwan Stoddard didn’t die a hero, Nowak said, because to those whose lives he touched, he already was a hero.
Hundreds of mourners gathered at Calvary Chapel East, 8725 E. Speedway, to bid farewell to Stoddard, whom friends and family recalled as a gentle father, an avid fisherman and, above all else, a tireless volunteer for his Mountain Avenue Church of Christ.
Services were moved to Calvary to accommodate mourners from across the state and even beyond.
Stoddard – “Dory” to innumerable friends and family members – threw himself into repairs at his small church with reckless abandon. He was a “MacGyver,” Nowak said, a “Mr. Fix-It” whose unending adventure was to keep the old church building in tiptop condition, no matter how many of his fingers he smashed.
If Stoddard fell through a ceiling he was repairing, or off a ladder, he would patch himself up with paper towels and electrical tape. He sprayed WD-40 on his joints because he said it helped the soreness, Nowak said.
“Dory had the spirit of an 18-year-old,” he said.
But Stoddard’s efforts didn’t end with the physical edifice of the church, Nowak said. He and Mavy worked to serve the needy as leaders of the church’s benevolence fund.
Stoddard and Mavy were grade-school friends in Tucson. Both went their separate ways, but they reunited and married 15 years ago after the deaths of both their spouses. They were seldom seen apart, Nowak said.
“They always acted like childhood sweethearts,” Nowak said. “Mavy was the stern one, making sure the church wasn’t taken advantage of. Dory was the the soft one, willing to give the deed to the property away.”
Stoddard’s four sons described him as a gentle man who never swore and loved to fish. Stoddard’s small fishing boat was placed at the front of the congregation, wreathed with flowers.
Dale Stoddard said his father was, in the words of Jesus Christ, a fisher of men, always reaching out to others. He also marveled at his father’s selfless sacrifice for his wife.
“If anything would happen to my wife, I hope I would have what he had,” he said.
Stoddard was a hero to the church, a hero to his wife and a hero to the people he helped, Nowak said.
“Before CNN ever heard the name Dorwan Stoddard, he was a hero,” Nowak said. “I hope that his legacy is not only that he gave his life, but that you’ve heard about the other heroic acts he’s done over the years.”
Mavy Stoddard closed the service, telling those in the audience to never take for granted the loved ones who are still in their lives.
“Never, ever, ever, ever, ever let anyone leave without hugging or kissing them, because tomorrow might not come,” she said.
She also told the audience members not to let the violent actions of another take away their hope. “Hang in there, everybody,” she said. “It’s going to be a long journey. But he died for me, so I have to live for him.”
In addition to his four sons, Stoddard is survived by four stepdaughters, 21 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.