Such was the tribute Monday to longtime Lewiston businessman and legislator Bruce Sweeney, who died last week at the age of 77.
More than 200 people attended the service at Trinity Lutheran Church, where Sweeney was married more than 50 years ago and where he was choir director for many years. In accordance with his wishes, the Rev. Scott Jurgens said Monday's service would "keep the words short and the music a little longer."
"We have lost a great pillar in our community. The crowd gathered here today makes that quite evident," Jurgens said. "But to me, Bruce was just Bruce. He was a great church member who contributed in time and money, but most importantly in joy and spirit."
Sweeney's nephew, Michael Graves of Kooskia, said "Uncle Boo-goo" competed at everything. He recalled one vacation at Coeur d'Alene Lake where Sweeney was water-skiing. He wanted the boat to go closer to shore so he could zoom in and spray the ladies there, but he got a bit too close.
"He skipped up on the beach and got hamburgered," Graves recalled. "That was Bruce. He was always competitive."
That was true even to the end.
"After (his wife) Marilyn passed away, the one thing Bruce really wanted to do was make it to his granddaughter's wedding at the end of July," Graves said. "He put all his energy into that. Then he got home and said he had time for one more fishing trip, so he went to Alaska for a week with his sons. Once he got home, that was it."
Sweeney moved to Lewiston in 1947, when he was a sophomore in high school. He and his father opened Sweeney Supply, a building supply firm, and later operated the Craftwall construction firm, which sold prefabricated homes around the Pacific Northwest. In addition to serving on a number of community boards, he was a volunteer coach for many years and sang in a barber shop quartet.
Sweeney also served two terms in the Idaho House, plus another eight terms in the Senate. Several former colleagues attended Monday's service, including Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter, who was lieutenant governor during most of the time Sweeney was in the Senate.
"Bruce and I played a lot of basketball," Otter recalled. "We'd go over to the YMCA at noon and play. When Bruce went to the basket, he wasn't easily deterred, not without some bruising. He had sharp elbows."
Sweeney took a few jabs at Otter off the court as well. After the 1990 elections, for example, the Senate was split 21-21. Sweeney, then the Democratic minority leader, argued that Democrats should share leadership. Lt. Gov. Otter, whose tie-breaking vote gave Republicans a majority, disagreed. So Sweeney sued him, asking the Idaho Supreme Court to decide whether the lieutenant governor should serve as tie-breaker.
"Bruce and I went to court, the court decided for me 4-1, and that was all I ever heard about it," Otter said. "He was a great friend and a tough competitor."
Moscow City Councilor Walter Steed, who previously worked for Sweeney at Craftwall, remembered his former boss' sense of humor. As a pilot, Sweeney always jumped at the chance to fly employees around to different meetings. On one such occasion, Steed fell asleep in the back seat. Sweeney intentionally let the main gas tank run down, then yelled that they were out of gas.
"I shot straight up. I'm surprised Bruce could stop laughing long enough to switch to the backup tank," Steed said.
Jurgens, who has been at Trinity Lutheran a little more than six years, said the amazing thing about Sweeney was he didn't let bone cancer slow him down.
"I talked with Bruce about his bone cancer a while back," Jurgens said. "He said the treatment was going well, but his life was still being measured in months or weeks. 'But I'm not afraid,' he said. Bruce knew death wasn't a finality, but a doorway into the kingdom of God. He wouldn't let death get the upper hand. He didn't stop doing things, sit at home and wait for it to come. He was going to enjoy the life God gave him."