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Ex-N.H. lawmaker Sam Cataldo, killed in a car crash, pulled no punches

  • Sam Cataldo



Monitor columnist
Monday, February 05, 2018

Those who served with Sam Cataldo called him the Italian Stallion.

He loved his Sicilian roots and never pulled any punches, traits that distinguished the former lawmaker, who was killed Saturday morning in a two-car collision in his hometown of Farmington.

Cataldo, who served in both the House and Senate for a combined 12 years, was 80.

Reports said Cataldo’s car was hit by another car on Route 11 as he was turning left. No further details were available by press time. Farmington police Chief Jay Drury did not return a call seeking information.

We know this much, however: His fellow public servants and friends cited that well-worn saying, the one about dying while doing what you loved, because Cataldo was on his way to a town meeting, Arthur Capello, Farmington’s town administrator, told me Monday.

Two meetings, in fact: the town’s school deliberative session and budget meeting, which were held at the same place.

And that’s what he loved to do. Fundraisers. Rallies for presidential candidates. Breakfast meetings. Lunch meetings. Meetings at picnics, where he would man the grill. Meetings at the Knights of Columbus. Meetings at the Elks Club.

Meetings, meetings, meetings.

“He was on the go continuously,” said former state representative Phyllis Woods of Dover. “Three weeks ago he was at the Strafford County Republican meeting. I don’t think he missed any of them. He was at the Pink Cadillac in Rochester, and at the state committee meeting in Bow. Every event.”

And that included the annual Mount Washington boat trip for Belknap County Republicans. Cataldo immersed himself in the Republican Party. He was known as a conservative with an open mind, a politician who was always willing to listen.

He voted with his party 96 percent of the time while in the State House, according to Citizens Count, NH’s Live Free or Die Alliance, yet he was in support of expanded Medicaid.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, Democrat from Manchester, said Cataldo was “a one-of-a-kind man and dedicated public servant.”

Kathy Cummings of Northwood, Cataldo’s assistant secretary during his two Senate terms, called him a staunch conservative, while Capello said Cataldo was “not a staunch Republican.”

“He would do what he thought was best, whether that was reaching across the aisle or not,” Capello said.

Other stories and descriptions came pouring out from officials, but one stood out: Once you knew Cataldo, you knew he was Italian. More specifically, Sicilian.

His colorful personality came through from friends and colleagues, which is why it was too bad I couldn’t reach Cataldo’s wife, Cheryl, or any of his five children.

I’m sure there were lots of stories to tell.

“His Sicilian roots, that’s what he was always talking about before meetings,” Capello said.

Sen. John Reagan of Deerfield, who shared an office with Cataldo at the State House for four years, recalled Godfather-like jabs as well.

“He always said that he was Sicilian and joked that you shouldn’t mess with him,” Reagan said.

And this came from Cummings: “He was very much into his Italian roots. He gave Italian gestures, if you know what I mean.”

Cummings laughed, then spoke about a man who always said what was on his mind and never worried about filtering his words.

“If you were politically correct, you’d hear him tell it like it was,” Woods said. “He was strong pro-life and he would not back down from that. He was a good conservative Republican with a strong backbone.”

He also had a craving for McDonald’s, Cummings told me, and not just now and then. He ate breakfast there. Lunch, too. Dinner, too.

“His car had a lot of McDonald’s wrappers in it,” Cummings said. “He went through the whole menu.”

Funeral arrangements had not been released by press time. Cataldo’s obit will say he was funny, with a straightforward, dry sense of humor. He graduated from Northeastern University, loved to fly model planes, served in the Air Force and was deeply loyal to friends and political allies.

“A straight shooter and a patriot,” Reagan said. “He loved his country and he served with dignity in both chambers.”

The crash that took his life happened before 8 a.m. The two meetings went on, with residents and town officials unaware of what had happened.

Cummings was at home when she got the call later from Reagan.

“I was shocked and very sad, because he wanted to keep going until he was 100,” Cummings said. “Even when he was done with the Senate, he would come to visit and check on meetings.

“He wasn’t ready.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)