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Bill Gerrard was known as a "wheeler-dealer" in his long career in the Wisconsin political scene, sort of a throwback to an era when despite all odds things got done.

His glad-handing style would turn off the purists, who accused him of arranging quid pro quos that were unethical at best. But, if a cause needed a champion, you couldn't ask for anyone better on your side.

Bill Gerrard died last week at age 93. The last time I saw him was at the old Avenue Bar, where he and countless others from Wisconsin government's "old school" would gather for lunch, exchange memories and share ideas that might still have legs in this crazy age of polarized politics.

Age has this habit of erasing memories, and many of the younger lunch patrons had no idea that they were in the company of one of the all-time great Wisconsin deal-makers. Gerrard's family owned a successful La Crosse trucking company, but he made his own mark by founding and nurturing Gerrard Realty, where he became a confidante of Madison Realtor and Democratic politician Patrick J. Lucey.

Lucey convinced Gerrard to run for chair of the state Democratic Party in 1970, and Gerrard then went on to successfully raise the money needed to get Lucey elected governor and helped ignite a resurgence of the party itself.

The governor made Gerrard a UW Regent, where Gerrard displayed his lobbying skills to help the new governor merge the UW and state colleges into the UW System that exists to this day. Bill soon became one of the most powerful lobbyists at the state Capitol, where his style and the rumors of the deals he would make produced results, but constantly raised eyebrows.

He was one, though, who would never burn bridges. While he was a Democrat, he also liked Republicans — certain kinds of Republicans — and Scott Walker wasn't among them. He viewed Tommy Thompson as the real deal, he'd remark, and he used his political skills to help Thompson's gubernatorial ambitions whenever he could.

In short, he was a different and delightful guy, who loved to kid and make jokes, who really wanted to know how your wife and kids were.

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They don't make them like Bill Gerrard anymore. We're all too snooty for that. And that's a shame.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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