Outgoing Mayor Paul Soglin is applauded after delivering remarks at a thank-you reception Monday at the Madison Municipal Building.

On his final full day in office, the longest-serving mayor in Madison history put the spotlight on city staff.

Mayor Paul Soglin — who held the office for 22 years over five decades but was soundly defeated on April 2 in his bid for a third straight four-year term — voiced appreciation and praise for staff at a reception attended Monday by more than 100 past and present employees and officials at the Madison Municipal Building.

In his remarks, Soglin eulogized and offered as an example of achievement the work of former longtime city public health director Patricia Gadow, who, before her retirement in 2001, helped assemble community, medical and other interests to establish the South Madison Health & Family Center-Harambee, which became vital to low-income people and minorities on the South Side. She died Wednesday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

“As I look around the room, I could tell a separate story of something each of you have done along those lines,” Soglin said.

The competence and innovation of staff allowed him time to study, explore best practices and engage the community rather than managing, he said amid an afternoon of handshakes, hugs and photos.

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“I don’t think there’s a question this is the best government employee base that’s ever been assembled on the planet,” he said.

Mayor-elect Satya Rhodes-Conway, who has been working from a transitional office in the building, stopped by and presented Soglin with two gifts: a framed photo of a young Soglin in action, wearing a coat with “mayor” written on the back while responding to the scene of a fire in 1978, and two Cuban cigars that she got during a trip to the island, a nod to Soglin’s meetings with Fidel Castro.

Roger Goodwin, who held management positions in city finance, streets and human resources before his retirement, said of Soglin, “He understood more about this city than anybody else. This is a man who had the vision to shape the city of Madison. He is one of the finest mayors in the history of the United States of America.”

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