Stephen Curtis Gardner of Novato, California, died of apparent heart failure on Thursday, August 20, 2020, at age 71. Born April 16, 1949, he was a lifelong resident of Marin County. His gentle presence is missed by those of us who had the privilege of getting to know this noble-hearted man.
Stephen had a warmth and compassionate nature people and animals easily took to and was always ready with a playful quip. Quick thinking and heroic, he was a man of action, gladly stepping up to help people and animals when and where needed. He was generous to a fault and was sometimes used as a result.
Enlisting in the Army in July of 1966 at the tender age of 17 provided a broad venue for Steve’s leadership gifts and liberated him from the alcoholic drama of his mother’s home. Steve’s military service stands out as one of the best periods in his life, his tour in Vietnam bringing out his innate courage, leadership and loyalty. Steve was awarded the Army Commendation Medal -- bestowed for “heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service” -- for initiative and actions he undertook to save fellow soldiers and civilians amidst great personal risk. He also received a National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Parachutist Badge, Bronze Star, and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
Steve’s natural bent for mathematics and science meant you could always find him watching Nova, Frontline, 60 Minutes, and National Geographics specials. Alex Trebek’s Jeopardy was a nightly routine, and Steve also enjoyed solving the word puzzles and the gentle, wholesome presentation of Vanna White and Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune. Masterpiece Theater’s Jane Tennison was one of his favorite characters.
Steve was an enthusiastic carpenter perpetually honing his skills, building and remodeling homes full-time, and taking side jobs on weekends. He loved woodworking and reveled in doing precision work. Toxic chemical exposure during his military service, however, took an increasing toll on his health. Self-medicating in misguided efforts to continue doing the work he loved only made things worse, and opioid drug addiction hijacked much of his life.
When poor health required that he stop carpentry work, Steve welcomed opportunities to use his skills to benefit others. When Steve visited, energy permitting, he nearly always ended up fixing or cleaning something, like cleaning out the tracks for your sliding doors so the doors rolled along in silent ease like new. Or you might notice that your floor had been neatly swept, or your kitchen faucet polished.
In these last years Steve remained close friends with his former wife of 26 years/co-parent of his beloved black cat and two rescued standard poodle-girls. But it was with his San Francisco Veteran’s Administration “Group” that he found a real belonging and sense of family, and Steve was deeply moved by all the care he received through the San Francisco VA across the board – from medical staff, counselors, tech support personnel. These dedicated people at the Fort Miley VA made a big difference in his life and were his family in his last years.
Rightly, then, Steve will take his place among loyal Americans who’ve protected our freedom and democracy for many generations. Accompanied by a volunteer Army Honor Guard and Flag ceremony, Steve’s ashes will be interred at the Sacramento Valley Veteran’s Administration National Cemetery in Dixon, California.
Steve was proud to be a staunch Democrat and openly encouraged everyone to vote, and I have no doubt that he would want that stated here, in such a time as this.
In remembrance and honor of Steve and the things he fought and stood for, I know either or both of these two things would please him greatly: If you are eligible to do so, please vote. Also, a donation to K9s For Warriors in Steve’s memory would be an outstanding memorial offering. Just mention “Stephen C. Gardner” in your donation online or by check; your donation will be credited to his memory, and you will receive an acknowledgement card.
Steve’s perpetual warmth, kindness, and helpfulness to myriads of people and animals in big and small ways made the world a better place for his having been with us.
RIP, dearest Steve.
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