Politics & Policy

Dorwan Stoddard, RIP

An overlooked story of heroism

Dorwan Stoddard and his wife, Mavanell, grew up together as friends in Tucson, and were high-school sweethearts in the 1950s. The two parted, moved away, and married others. But 15 years ago, having survived the death of their spouses, the two were reunited — and then married — in their hometown.

When Jared Loughner began firing on the crowd gathered around Rep. Gabrielle Gifford at the Safeway supermarket in Tucson on Saturday, Mavanell thought the sounds came from firecrackers. Dorwan knew otherwise and quickly pulled his wife to the ground and threw himself over her. Mavy — as she is known to her friends — was hit three times in the legs, and is now in stable condition and expected to survive. Dorwan was shot, fatally, through the head, at the age of 76. Dorwan was memorialized at the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ — a small Tucson-area church where he and Mavy had worshipped and served — on Sunday.

Trading his life for his wife’s was Dorwan’s final act, after which he could manage no final words. Rev. Mike Nowak, the pastor of Mountain Avenue Church of Christ, visited Mavy at the University Medical Center, to which she and Dorwan were both rushed, and she spoke about the aftermath of the attack: “She talked to him for ten minutes as he breathed heavily. He never talked back to her.”

In pictures, Dorwan typically wears a bolo tie, a white cowboy hat, and a graying beard, and keeps his arm firmly around his wife. He had retired from a career as a construction worker, and had since freely employed his skills repairing and rebuilding their church. A sign for “Dory’s Room” — styled after his affectionate nickname — marks one of his own creations, during the construction of which he fell off a high ladder. Against church members’ expectations, Dorwan survived the fall, but he needed 17 stents.

Dorwan and Mavy led the church’s “benevolence committee,” a group devoted to helping the poor. The Stoddards helped care for sick church members and provided transportation for those who needed it. Several friends and church members praised their work on the committee as Christian charity. The couple didn’t just write checks; they sought out those in need, listened to their problems, and offered their friendship as well as their financial support. Several people stood up at the funeral services to speak of how Dorwan had helped them. Kat Joplin said she had been homeless until the Stoddards helped her and her husband get off the streets, into a motel room, and eventually, onto a payroll. The Joplins even stayed at the Stoddard’s own home for a time.

Friends described Dorwan as an enthusiastic Arizona Wildcats fan, and pictures show Dorwan at the piano at a church picnic.

Nowak said that Mavy credits Dorwan with saving her life, and had joked from her hospital bed that “Dory will never have to worry about another stent again.”  Nowak described their relationship for KGU9: “They were inseparable. You saw one and you knew the other one wasn’t far behind. That will be a whole other life for her, so I’m afraid it will hit her harder down the road.”

Dory and Mavy “didn’t write any books. There are no streets named after them. There is no monument to them, but their impact in the community of Tucson will last a lifetime,” Nowak said.

Dorwan Stoddard is survived by two sons, four stepdaughters, and his wife.

— Matthew Shaffer is a William F. Buckley fellow at the National Review Institute.


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