Friends mark Theis’ memory, legacy as memorial service is planned

David Theis, at left, poses with First Selectman Peter Tesei at the annual Cos Cob Republican Clambake — John Ferris Robben photo

David Theis, at left, poses with First Selectman Peter Tesei at the annual Cos Cob Republican Clambake — John Ferris Robben photo

Remembrances of David Theis have come from all over town as his family prepares to lay him to rest.

Funeral services for the three-term selectman, who died suddenly on Tuesday after collapsing while working out at the gym, will be private at the family’s request. However, there will be a public memorial service for him on Saturday Jan. 10. The exact time and location of the service have not been revealed yet but will be posted to Greenwichct.org when they are. In the meantime, flags remain at half-mast at Town Hall and his friends have asked that in lieu of flowers for people to instead send donations to either the Greenwich Old Timers’ Athletic Association P.O. Box 558 Greenwich, Conn. 06836 or Adopt A Dog, 23 Cox Avenue Armonk, N.Y. 10504.

The loss of Mr. Theis, who enjoyed wide-spread popularity in town due to his decades of government and community service, was deeply felt throughout Greenwich. A Facebook group was created at Facebook.com/groups/1533609710220903/ for people to share photos and memories of him. A town native and graduate of Greenwich High School, Mr. Theis was remembered not only for his work on the Board of Selectmen but also for his giving, generous nature and everything he did for the community.

“Dave Theis was the gold standard for public service, and human decency,” State Rep. Fred Camillo, a longtime friend of Mr. Theis, told the Post. “He treated everyone with love and respect and did so for all of his years on this Earth. Whether in the Bruce Park Grille, the Cos Cobber, or the Greenwich Country Club, Dave loved to be with people, talk sports, discuss politics, and of course, down a few Budweisers.”

Mr. Camillo and others remembered Mr. Theis, a former athletic director at Greenwich Country Day School, for his commitment to athletics and organizations like the YMCA.  He recalled him being a mainstay at the YMCA Weight Club, saying that Mr. Theis was “at the center of that community within a community” and that while Mr. Theis was “legendary in the weight room” he was always eager to welcome in younger people and make them feel a part of it.

“That caring and welcoming nature never left him and he became a part of the family,” Mr. Camillo said. “And yes, we would have family gatherings, and Dave and his partner in life, Kerrin, would be there right alongside our family.”

Mr. Theis was remembered by many as a strong patriot. He was a big part of the Salute to Veterans events that were held in July and, at the suggestion of a resident, he took the lead in the annual summer display of American flags along the Mianus River Bridge in Cos Cob. He did this through a partnership first with the Masonic Lodge and then with the Cos Cob Volunteer Fire Company. John Pugni, district chief of the fire company, recalled how every year Mr. Theis didn’t just help organize the effort he was there to put up the flags with the rest of the volunteers.

Calling his friend “one of a kind,” Chief Pugni remembered Mr. Theis as someone always willing to lend a hand for a good cause and always eager to speak to people in town and get to know them. Coming from Cos Cob, Chief Pugni said there was a special bond with Mr. Theis. But his commitment to the town didn’t just begin and end in Cos Cob. He said Mr. Theis was there for all the residents whenever they needed him.

“You don’t come across people like him very often,” Chief Pugni said in an interview with the Post. “He was so caring and loving. The town lost a very important part of it. You are not going to find one bad side of Dave Theis. He was there for everyone, not just the fire department. He was there for the Red Cross  and the Masonic Lodge and Toys for Tots. And he always had a positive note for things. Sometimes when you talk to people they can’t help but put a negative spin on things. Not Dave. He was a positive guy who saw the best in everyone.”

Jack Kriskey was chief organizer of the annual Toys for Tots effort and that meant working closely with Mr. Theis and his longtime partner Kerrin Coyle. Mr. Kriskey said he would miss Mr. Theis’ “calm head” and sense of humor.

“He was a good, kind man and he was always there for the people around him,” Mr. Kriskey said.

In an interview with the Post, Mr. Kriskey recalled last year’s Toys for Tots collection when he was unable to work with the U.S. Marine Corps as he previously had. He said he hadn’t known where to turn but Mr. Theis was there to help him and connect him with Chief of Police James Heavey to make sure the effort was a success. And he not only insured last year’s event brought toys to needy children, Mr. Kriskey said Mr. Theis was instrumental in allowing for a transition to have the Silver Shield Association take over Toys for Tots collection next year to allow it to grow with new ideas.

“That was just quintessential David,” Mr. Kriskey said. “He stepped up when we needed help. He was excellent at bringing people who needed each other together. He was such a people person. He wanted to get to know people and hear their stories and find out about them.”

Mr. Theis’ political colleagues were quick to offer their memories as well. Mr. Theis had formed a strong partnership with First Selectman Peter Tesei and this board, along with Selectman Drew Marzullo, was highly praised throughout town for putting partisan politics aside and focusing on resident needs. Speaking to the Post, Mr. Tesei called Mr. Theis not just a colleague and partner in government but “a dear friend.”

“Dave was dedicated to our town and he supported me,” Mr. Tesei said. “He liked to say ‘I have got your back.’ Sadly this loyalty and integrity is lacking in politics today and I was truly blessed to have Dave by my side these past five years. The Board of Selectmen will not be the same without Dave and he has set the standard in terms of his service and integrity.”

State Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th) released a statement on Thursday, saying, “The entire community will for a long time to come mourn the loss of one of our best statesmen and patriots. His enthusiastic and impeccable leadership will be sorely missed by all who knew him and who were aware of his selfless work. Always willing to lend a hand, help his neighbor, be strong on the tough issues and reinstall the forty or so American flags every spring on the Mianus River bridge to inspire us all, Dave Theis embodied true devotion to the American ideals that we all cherish. His legacy of public service is honored today and forever.”

A strong Republican, Mr. Theis was a former official in the Greenwich Republican Town Committee and was president of the Cos Cob Republican Club. However, despite his deep ties to the grand old party, Mr. Theis was also popular with Greenwich Democrats who praised his eagerness to work in the community for residents of any political affiliation. Mr. Theis was able to form a strong friendship both on and off the board with Mr. Marzullo, the lone Democrat on it. Mr. Marzullo said that the loss of Mr. Theis was devastating both for the town and for him personally.

“I hope Dave knew how many people really loved him,” Mr. Marzullo said. “I hope he knew how many people benefited from his selfless acts of kindness. Our town lost one of the good guys Tuesday night and to say he will be missed is an understatement. It has been an honor of a lifetime serving along side a true gentleman who I was lucky to call a friend.”

In his role with the Cos Cob Republican Club, Mr. Theis hosted the annual Clambake designed to boost Republican candidates into the fall. In recent years he had invited Ruby Durant, from the town’s Registrar of Voters Office, to sing a patriotic medley of songs to kick off the festivities. She said she was happy to do it because she was so fond of Mr. Theis and, speaking to the Post on Friday, she recalled the last time she saw him when she was walking down in Town Hall and he saw her from the selectmen’s office and gave her a big, friendly wave.

Ms. Durant said when she heard the news she was deeply impacted by his loss. She said there was a special bond between them at Town Hall and that when she saw the Facebook tributes to him she was actually upset at first when she saw others saying the same thing because what she had with him felt so personal.

“All of these responses kept saying ‘my friend’ and I thought to myself, ‘That’s not your friend, that’s my friend,’” Ms. Durant said. “He made me feel so special and I shared that with someone and they told me, ‘Ruby, that’s how he made everybody feel’ and that was true.”

Ms. Durant called Mr. Theis a “big heart with legs” and said she hoped faith would help his other friends and loved ones through this difficult time.

“I cried when I heard because he was my friend but I’m a spiritual kind of person and it really kicked in for me,” Ms. Durant said. “I said to myself, he’s standing in front of God right now and God will say to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’”

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