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11/18/2012 12:01:00 AM
Remembering Sam: Friends and family memorialize Steiger
Les Stukenberg/The Daily CourierGail Steiger tells a funny story about his father to more than 100 family and friends at a memorial for Sam Steiger held Saturday at the Yavapai County Mounted Sheriff’s Posse clubhouse in Prescott.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Gail Steiger tells a funny story about his father to more than 100 family and friends at a memorial for Sam Steiger held Saturday at the Yavapai County Mounted Sheriff’s Posse clubhouse in Prescott.
Cindy Barks
The Daily Courier

RESCOTT - A visionary who struggled at his own businesses; a gifted politician who sometimes offended those closest to him; an effective legislator who could be a frustrating boss.

For the people who knew former U.S. Congressman Sam Steiger best, the contrasts in the man were plentiful.

But one thing was clear Saturday, when more than 125 former colleagues, old friends, and family members gathered at the Yavapai County Mounted Sheriff's Posse House Saturday for a memorial for Steiger: The man left an enduring impression.

Steiger died Sept. 26 at age 83. Prior to suffering a stroke in 2002, he had been a prominent political force, serving first in the Arizona Senate, and then for 10 years in the U.S. Congress. Later, he ran twice for governor, and hosted a talk show on local television. He ended his political career by serving as Prescott's mayor from 1999 to 2001.

Paul Rosenblatt, a U.S. District Judge, told the crowd that he had known Steiger for more than half a century. The two met soon after Steiger arrived in Prescott in the 1950s, and Rosenblatt later served as Steiger's administrative assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Looking back, Rosenblatt described his friend as "complicated, convoluted, ornery, loveable, and generous to a fault."

"He was a visionary when it came to conceptual things," Rosenblatt said, noting that Steiger proposed hydroponics long before the process became widely used. "At the same time, he was the worst businessman you could ever know."

Long-time friend Carol Springer told the crowd that she had tried to pinpoint the essence of Steiger's personality prior to this weekend's event. She came to a simple conclusion: "I have never met anyone in my life so comfortable in his own skin," she said.

To illustrate that point, Springer told a story about a formal event she and Steiger attended at a country club while she was working for a Phoenix real estate firm.

"Every year, they had a big, fancy party," Springer said, adding that one year, she asked Steiger to attend the event with her.

When they got to Phoenix, however, Steiger had forgotten the studs for his tuxedo. In their place, he rigged up a closure system of paper clips and rubber bands.

Walking into the formal affair, she said, Steiger had no self-consciousness about his quirky accessory. "You know what? It didn't bother him one bit," Springer said.

Even as they praised his confidence and self-possession, friends and family acknowledged that Steiger also sometimes came off as rude. But even that was often countered by a quick wit.

His daughter Delia Whitehead told about an incident during Steiger's 1976 bid for the U.S. Senate. In what Whitehead called a "bloodbath race," Steiger battled fellow Republican John B. Conlan for the party's nomination.

It was during that time that the family sat down to dinner at a Scottsdale restaurant, and Steiger - worn-out from the campaign, and unhappy with the service - began to complain loudly.

After he had "gone on raving," for a time, Whitehead remembers her father finally calming down, and concluding - for all of the other diners to hear - "If that's not true, my name isn't John B. Conlan."

Despite the rough edges, Whitehead said, "He had one of the most tender hearts that ever beat. We were all lucky to know him, even if he drove you crazy."

Steiger's son Gail opened the memorial by emphasizing the role the American West had played in Steiger's life.

"He was 13 or 14 when he came west for the first time," Gail said, adding that the summer dude-ranch experience was all it took. "That was it. He was hooked on the west and horses."

Steiger, a New York native, moved to Prescott for good in 1954, bought a ranch, and married a Prescott girl.

After losing the U.S. Senate election in 1976, ranching once again called to him. "He said, 'I want to do something that's real," Gail said. "Prescott's my home.'"

Indeed, ranching was a common theme at the Saturday event. Among the memorabilia - displayed between the orange-and-black-striped "Sam 'Tiger' Steiger" license plate placard and newspaper clippings about his life - a quintessentially Steiger photo took center stage.

It showed a younger Steiger planted firmly on the back of a horse, pipe clamped between his teeth, and arm raised as he charged forward in a gymkhana event.

Steiger's long-time friend and radio and television producer Joyce Downey said she tracked down the photo at a Wickenburg restaurant after hearing about it.

"He told me about 18 years ago that there was one picture of him that he really liked," she said. "He didn't have it, but someone had told him it was on a wall in a restaurant in Wickenburg."

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