Life Remembered: Dodd's passing leaves 'community at a loss'

CHAMPAIGN — After a life of service to his community, his church and his family, local attorney and former Champaign Mayor Robert Dodd died early Thursday.

Mr. Dodd died at his Champaign home, which was his wish, said his daughter, Brenda Nelson. He died of pancreatitis at age 75.

He is survived by his wife, Joyce, to whom he would have been married 43 years in April, Nelson said, as well as five other children and 13 grandchildren.

He had been in the hospital seven weeks and decided last weekend to come home, she said. He arrived home Wednesday, in time to watch news coverage of his friend, City Manager Steve Carter, at Carter's retirement reception Wednesday evening.

"I think he did some soul-searching, and I think he found some peace with God," Nelson said. "He did a lot for his church, a lot for his community."

Mr. Dodd was known for helping others in many different ways, she said.

"Robert was the type of person once you were his friend, you were his friend for life," she said. "If there was any possible way to try to help you ... he would do it."

Mr. Dodd was a Rotarian and served on the board of the Urban League. He was active in AMBUCS, as well as with city government.

Mr. Dodd always encouraged Nelson and her siblings to do their best, follow their dreams — and he'd do anything he could to help them, starting with, "Let's sit down and make a plan."

As a family, they enjoyed camping and taking trips in a motor home. Nelson has fond memories of visiting the Wisconsin Dells, Colorado and Florida, and they had a spot they'd visit at Lake Taylorville.

"Whatever we needed or wanted to do, (he) would find a way to do it," she said.

She remembers him teaching her how to downhill- and water-ski, and that her parents insisted she and her siblings take golf lessons.

"At the time, we hated it," Nelson said, but they ended up appreciating it later in life. Mr. Dodd insisted she and her siblings "strive to be the best we could be and do the best we could do, and not hurt people."

Nelson said that Mr. Dodd married a woman with six kids "said a lot" about him.

"He supported all of us, loved us all very much and loved my mom very much and loved all of his friends very much," Nelson said. "He's going to be really missed by a lot of people."

Shayla Maatuka, who became his law partner when she and Mr. Dodd merged their firms in 2009, said she first met Mr. Dodd when she had a question about municipal law. From there, the two started referring work to each other and Mr. Dodd recruited Maatuka to serve on the board of the Urban League.

Then, he started offering her jobs. When the offer turned to a merger, Maatuka accepted. Their firm was first Dodd Ludwig Maatuka, but later in 2009 became Dodd & Maatuka. The firm is in Champaign.

"I've really enjoyed Robert's mentorship," Maatuka said. "What sticks out the most is his love for the community and his fellow man."

She described Mr. Dodd as a problem-solver who "dealt with the people first, and then the problem."

"Families would come back to the firm for generations because they felt taken care of," she said. "If I learned nothing else from him, I learned how to take care of people."

Maatuka called Mr. Dodd an excellent attorney and a quick study, and someone who took care of his own family and his co-workers as if they were a second family.

"Robert was the type of person who helped everyone around him," Maatuka said. "He really took care of every single person in this office. There's not one person we had in life that he didn't try to get involved with and help."

Mr. Dodd's death will affect many, she said.

"He loved this community, he loved his church, he loved his family and he loved this firm," she said. "I think the community is certainly at a loss."

Mr. Dodd, a former priest, was active at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Urbana.

Jon McCoy, who is the director of children's programs at St. Patrick, said he was a member of a couple groups that Mr. Dodd led, including one that followed the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and built on what adults learned there.

McCoy was also a part of a men's group Mr. Dodd led and called Mr. Dodd his spiritual mentor.

"He just challenged me to take different steps in my faith to help me grow," McCoy said, recalling that Mr. Dodd was good at recruiting others to take part in his groups.

"I think his love for the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church motivated people because they could see how much he actually loved the church," McCoy said, adding that Mr. Dodd created a relaxed environment in which people could talk about their faith.

Former Champaign Mayor Dan McCollum was serving on the city council during Mr. Dodd's tenure as mayor.

They agreed, McCollum said, that something needed to be done about the pedestrian mall on Neil Street.

They differed, though, in that McCollum thought the downtown Champaign business owners should pay to take it out — as they had encouraged it in the first place — but Dodd advocated taking it out with city money.

"In retrospect, it probably wouldn't have gotten done any time soon if Bob wouldn't have taken leadership and, on the taxpayers' ticket, taken it out," McCollum said, calling it "a major improvement to the downtown."

Mr. Dodd lost in a primary when McCollum was running for mayor, McCollum said, but their mayoral experiences gave them a common ground.

"When we got together, we met as friends and had much to talk about," McCollum said.

They worked together on Champaign's recent sesquicentennial celebration.

"I feel very sorry to have lost a former colleague," he said.

Current Mayor Don Gerard said Mr. Dodd was the first former Champaign mayor to call and offer his support.

He called Mr. Dodd "extraordinarily encouraging" and reassuring, and said Carter has mentioned that Mr. Dodd is the person who sold Carter on Champaign.

"He was really excited about the city of Champaign," Gerard said.

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readsalot wrote on March 29, 2013 at 3:03 pm

What a loss to the community and to St. Patrick's church.  Mr. Dodd was a co-leader when I was brought into the Church via RCIA several years ago.  The way he lived his faith was/is inspiring.  Prayers for you and your family.