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bob edgar

Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, died suddenly Tuesday morning, April 23, 2013, at his home.

Eleven days ago, I stood outside Vilas Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus with Bob Edgar, national president of Common Cause, Jay Heck, the Wisconsin Common Cause executive director, and Capital Times photographer Mike DeVries.

I had just finished interviewing Edgar for a full hour and DeVries wanted to capture an outdoor image of him. As we finished and said our goodbyes, I recall watching Edgar, marveling as he purposefully bounded away down University Avenue, on to the next conversation about the big problems with electoral politics in 2013 America.

Edgar died today, a month short of his 70th birthday. A colleague told me Common Cause had issued a press release. I called Heck, who shared my sense of shock. “It’s unbelievable,” said Heck. “I think Wisconsin was one of the last places he visited” outside of Washington, D.C. He said Edgar was in Madison for a day and a half. I interviewed with him after he had been on statewide public radio.

Heck, who said he first met Edgar in 1982, said Edgar suffered a massive heart attack while exercising at his northern Virginia home Tuesday morning and could not be revived.

Heck said Edgar had liked my column and shared it widely, in part, I suspect, because, in these hyperpartisan and toxic political times, I wrote about Edgar’s energy and optimism.

Edgar, a clergyman by education, was one of those people I feel honored to have encountered. Visionary and altruistic, he saw events like the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court as just a bump within the context of history’s big sweep.

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Others who truly knew him will certainly eulogize him far more eloquently than I can. But I’ve been interviewing and writing about people for decades and last week I recall thinking the country would be better off with more Bob Edgars in it.

Which makes today all the harder.

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Paul Fanlund is editor and publisher of The Capital Times. A longtime Madisonian, he was a State Journal reporter and editor before becoming a vice president of Madison Newspapers. He joined the Cap Times in 2006.