REGIONAL- Longtime Iron Range legislator David Tomassoni, who championed a bill this spring to bring new hope to people affected by the degenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), died …
REGIONAL- Longtime Iron Range legislator David Tomassoni, who championed a bill this spring to bring new hope to people affected by the degenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), died from a year-long battle with that disease last Thurs., Aug. 11. He was 69 years-old.
“We lost a giant,” said Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, Tomassoni’s close friend and longtime Senate colleague. “The legacy he leaves is enormous, and his passion for public service benefited countless lives.”
Indeed, as a member of the state Legislature for 30 years, the last 22 of those as a senator, the Chisholm legislator’s legacy of service to his district and the Iron Range was already cemented well before he was diagnosed with ALS last summer. Even as his physical condition deteriorated in the ensuing months, he continued his active legislative agenda and activities this spring, pushing through a landmark $25 million bill for ALS research and support for families and caregivers. When the bill passed the Senate in March, Bakk shared this message from Tomassoni.
“It’s been an emotional several weeks for me and my family, one full of love and overwhelming gratitude,” Tomassoni wrote. “I am so proud of this legislature for coming together in almost unanimous support of an issue that’s bigger than all of us. This bill has the potential to be the beginning of the eradication of an insidious disease, not for me, but for future generations. That is something we can all be proud of.”
Bakk re-emphasized the importance of Tomassoni’s work in his comments last Friday.
“His selflessness in advocating for ALS research could not save his life but may save the lives of millions who follow in his footsteps,” Bakk said.
Technology allowed Tomassoni to work from his room in a Duluth care center this session, but when the Senate recognized its retiring members in May, Tomassoni made the trip to St. Paul to deliver his farewell remarks. He received multiple standing ovations and brought his colleagues to tears as he said his goodbyes.
“I treasure the time I have been able to work in the Senate. And I use the word work because this is serious business,” he said on the Senate floor with the aid of assistive technology. “Doing the people’s work comes with a lot of personal sacrifice and responsibility and is often times hard on family,” he said. “But it also has its allure.”
Before embarking on his political career in 1992, Tomassoni carved out a legacy on ice as a hockey player, transitioning from star defenseman at Chisholm High School to two appearances in the NCAA Frozen Four with the University of Denver Pioneers, serving as team captain in 1975, his senior year.
After a brief stint in the New York Rangers’ minor league system, Tomassoni’s passion for the game led him to sign on with a pro team in Italy. Over a pro career spanning 16 years, Tomassoni won three league championships, scored two international hockey gold medals, and played for Team Italy in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.
Tomassoni never lost his passion for hockey or his love of his alma mater, the University of Denver, and the Pioneers returned the love this last winter when they came to Duluth last December for a two-game series against UMD.
As reported by therinklive.com, Tomassoni was asked to drop the first puck of the first game, and the Pioneers surprised him with a jersey with his name on it and the letter ‘C’ for captain. In remarks to the team after the game, Tomassoni used a bit of colorful language to motivate the Pioneers to win the national championship. The Pioneers turned that inspiration into an improbable Frozen Four semifinal upset of top-ranked Michigan and the team’s record ninth NCAA hockey title with a win over Minnesota State-Mankato in the final. A picture of Tomassoni the team used for motivation during their championship run will hang in the DU coaches’ offices next season.
“It was just so cool and meaningful for the program, our players, for David and his family,” said Coach David Carle. “It’s one of those moments of destiny that happened in a championship season.”
Turning to politics
After Tomassoni hung up his skates and returned to the U.S., politics beckoned. First elected to the Minnesota Legislature in 1992, he served for eight years in the House before being elected to the Senate. He served in multiple leadership positions, including being elected president pro tempore of the Senate in 2021.
Tomassoni secured millions upon millions of dollars over the years for his district, for roads and other infrastructure, as well as schools and recreation trails. During his time in the Legislature, he chaired committees on natural resources, economic development and education. Through it all, Tomassoni was known as a legislator who would put partisan politics aside to achieve legislation to benefit his constituents and all of Minnesota. Having represented the DFL for most of his career, he and Bakk left the party before the 2021 legislative session to form an independent caucus that they believed better positioned themselves to have more influence in the Senate.
Last Friday, tributes to Tomassoni poured in from across the political spectrum.
“David was a champion for his constituents, the Iron Range, and all of Minnesota,” Gov. Tim Walz said, noting the recent ALS legislation as a key achievement. “His legacy will continue to help people in Minnesota for generations.”
Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said Tomassoni’s “boundless courage and wisdom will be missed.”
Minnesota Republican Party Chair David Hann, a former Senate colleague of Tomassoni’s, called him gracious and passionate.
“I remember him as a man with a great sense of humor, rare in the political atmosphere of the state Senate, and a political opponent who never let policy arguments detract from his natural kindness and generosity of spirit,” Hann said in a written statement.
State Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, described Tomassoni as part of a special class of lawmakers who valued collaboration over public attention.
“They could get anything done they wanted to get done. And they never did it by throwing bombs. They worked across the aisle. They formed relationships. You would toast a glass of wine and he’d always have his cheese boards out in his office,” she recalled. “That’s how Senator Tomassoni got things done and never, never had one enemy along the way, only friends.”
Eighth District Congressman Pete Stauber said, “There was no better champion for Minnesota and the Iron Range than David. His tireless work and dynamic personality will be greatly missed in the Northland.”
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar quoted Tomassoni’s own words in tribute to his accomplishments.
“There may be no better example of David’s dedication to public service than the letter he shared with his constituents following his ALS diagnosis,” Klobuchar said. “He wrote, ‘I give you my word that my brain and my body will continue to represent you with the same passion and vigor I’ve tried to give in the past.’ Even through the greatest battle of his life, David lived up to his promise to serve. I will miss his good humor and the twinkle in his eye. I will miss his funny texts and phone calls. Like his family, I find solace in knowing he fought the good fight and will now be at peace.”
A Mass of Christian Burial was scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 19, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Chisholm, after which Tomassoni was to be interred at Chisholm Cemetery in private services. Visitation was to be at the church on Thursday, Aug. 18 from 5-7 p.m. and for one hour preceding Friday’s service.
Minnesota Public Radio contributed to this report.
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