Dennis Mahar, longtime director of the Area Agency on Aging for Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties and a devoted community volunteer, died of cancer late Tuesday at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia. He was 63.
“I don’t think any of us imagined a world without Dennis Mahar. To say he was a true giant in advocating for seniors is still too small of a characterization,” said U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Washington, said in a statement.
“Everything we can possibly say about this generous individual we were privileged enough to have in our community is an understatement. I hope we will continue to share the stories of Dennis’ work on behalf of seniors to inspire others to pursue advocacy with the same passion and dedication as he did.”
In Mahar’s 35 years at the agency, Mahar made scores of contributions to strengthen the community he loved, said his close friend Rick Crawford.
This month, the United Way of Thurston County is slated to honor Mahar with the 2016 Gladys Burns Award, , which celebrates outstanding leadership, devotion, and volunteer work within a community. Mahar was a United Way board member and leader in forging the partnership between local government and the United Way, Executive Director Paul Knox said.
“Dennis was a smart, strong-minded individual who always stood on the side of the community,” Knox said. “He was someone who spent thousands of hours making it better. He had a big voice, but a smart voice.”
Mahar was the go-to emcee for many company-held forums and events. The senior fall lobby conference was usually where Mahar expressed his crowd-pleasing capabilities, Gerald “Jerry” Reilly, chairman of the ElderCare Alliance, said.
“When speakers didn’t show up to the event, Dennis would hold the stage for 30 minutes,” Reilly said.
“He was outgoing, could think on his feet and was fair with everyone.”
Mahar was involved with the Food Bank board and Thurston County Leadership, Reilly said. Mahar also served on The Alzheimer’s Association board, and helped lead the Washington State Senior Citizens Lobby and Senior Games.
Mahar also was a frequent blogger on the New York Times website and contributor to the Senior News in Olympia.
Reilly described Mahar as a “magnificent thinker and extremely competent professional in the world of people with a disability.”
Crawford said, “Dennis has been a strong champion for our most vulnerable populations including our very youngest to our very eldest citizens on local, state and national levels. He will be sadly missed, leaving some big shoes to fill.”
When Mahar was diagnosed with cancer, he wasn’t negative, said Lorrie Mahar, his wife of 40 years. He celebrated his life until the end, and she said that helped her stay positive and reflect on the wonderful life they had together.
“We were told that we were soul mates from the very first point we met,” Lorrie said. “And we really were. He used to tell me, ‘My work for the community is my passion, and my life with you is my joy.’”
Funeral Alternatives of Washington in Tumwater will be coordinating Mahar’s services. Call 360-753-1065 for more information.