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Rep. Craig Tieszen listens to the annual State of the State address delivered in January by Gov. Dennis Daugaard at the state capitol building.

Journal file

“A true gentleman who was respected by all who knew him.”

“He was a kind and decent man to the very core.”

“We are diminished by his loss.”

“I have never met anyone so likeable, so professional and so dedicated to public service.”

“A heavy heart this Thanksgiving.”

“He was a good, good man.”

The news of Craig Tieszen’s death struck Rapid City and much of South Dakota like a thunderbolt. By all measures — as the Twitter comments above indicate — he was a beloved and generous public figure who respected others and their viewpoints while working in challenging leadership positions.

How far the 68-year-old state lawmaker and former police chief was willing to go to help another was evident Wednesday, the day of his daughter’s wedding in a faraway romantic setting where family members gathered for a momentous event.

He was kayaking with his brother-in-law, Brent Moline, at Cook Islands in the South Pacific. According to local police reports, Brent got into trouble and Craig attempted to rescue him, but both men were claimed by the ocean — a catastrophic family tragedy.

It was the final measure of a man admired by his peers and countless others whose lives he touched in 42 years of public service where he consistently and to the very end demonstrated what kind of man he was and will forever be.

Rep. Tieszen became Rapid City police officer Craig Tieszen in 1975 when his career in law enforcement began. Before that, he was a Peace Corps volunteer where his legacy of caring, kindness, humor and commitment likely began to take shape.

In 2000, he was named police chief of Rapid City, a position he held for seven years before retiring from law enforcement and then taking a run at elected office. In 2009, the Republican won a seat in the state Senate, where he served for seven years. In 2016, he returned to the Legislature as a representative for District 34 on the west side of Rapid City.

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In his years in law enforcement and politics, his path crossed with those in every station of life — from children to senior citizens, the affluent to the less fortunate, the powerful to the average working-class citizen. Judging by the outpouring of grief and recollections on the career and life of Craig Tieszen, many benefited from their association with him and proclaimed it to the world. Not many of us will be so honored upon our passing.

How many of us would be willing to risk our life, especially on a child's wedding day? What type of person is willing to put another life ahead of their own? The answer has been right in front of all those who have known Craig Tieszen.

In the end, most are remembered and judged by how they lived. It is the final and ultimate verdict. Craig Tieszen, however, also will be remembered for dying the way he lived — in service to others. On the day before Thanksgiving, he made a selfless sacrifice that cost him a life that he had worked hard to achieve. Yet for those who knew him, there can be little doubt that he was only thinking of his brother-in-law when he made what would turn out to be the last decision of his earthly life.

Craig Tieszen will be missed by many and the pain of this loss won't soon pass. Death is always hard to accept, especially when we lose someone who has given so much to so many. We thank him for his public service and express our sincerest condolences to his family. Upon his return to this community, we need to celebrate his life and support his family.

It is the least we can do for a man who through his actions showed others how to live and had the courage to put it all on the line.

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