HELENA Daniel John Sullivan, 90, of Helena, died of natural causes Wednesday, April 10, in Helena.
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Cremation has taken place. Mass will be celebrated at noon on Tuesday at St. Helena's Cathedral, followed by a memorial luncheon at the Cathedral's Brondel Center. Anderson Stevenson Wilke Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
On April 10, 2013, Daniel John Sullivan and his wide Irish smile rejoined his wife of 66 years and all of his immediate family. He was the longest living member of his family, having recently celebrated his 90th birthday with his five children and the children of their families.
Daniel was known by his loved ones, of which there are many, as Danny, Papa Dan or Dad. His countenance was as Irish as a shamrock, and his hearty laugh and warm smile could light the darkest room. His greatest gifts, and the ones for which he will be most remembered, were his devotion to his family, his kind and gentle manner, his tolerance for others and his appreciation for the unique qualities and strengths of individuals. He rarely complained about life's hardships and difficulties. Instead, he saved his complaints for matters he believed were unjust treatment toward others. He opposed nearly all displays of pomp. A humble man, he literally wore his shoes until they fell off his feet. One Christmas, his wife Patty had one of his tattered sneakers bronzed as a humorous family gift. Dan just wondered if the shoe and its mate could have been worn for another year.
Daniel was born in Butte on March 27, 1923, the youngest child of John Thomas and Evelyn Thomas Sullivan. His father worked as an accountant for the Montana Power Company and later was the business manager of Hansen Packing Company. Danny attended St. Patrick's Grade School and graduated from Butte Central High School in 1941.
Danny followed his brother's lead to the University of Montana, where he enrolled in pre-law, pledged Phi Delta Theta, was elected to membership in the Bear Paws and served as the manager of the Grizzly football team. Shortly after arriving in Missoula, he was smitten by Patsy Elder's dancing brown eyes and mischievous smile. Long before he was aware of his destiny, Patsy confided in her close friends that she was going to marry Danny Sullivan.
As was the case with many of those in his generation, his schooling was interrupted by World War II. He enlisted in the United States Army and proudly served with the 104th Infantry Timberwolf Division. His tour of duty as a member of an anti-tank gun unit included combat time in France, Belgium and Germany.
When the war ended, he returned to the University of Montana and re-enrolled in law school. On Dec. 21, 1946, the day of the winter solstice, he married Patricia Gertrude Elder, the youngest daughter of Gertrude and Claude Elder of Missoula.
Daniel graduated from the University of Montana Law School in 1949. He then attended New York University, receiving a master's degree in tax law the following year.
When Dan and Patty returned from New York, they settled in Helena and resided there for the remainder of their lives. In 1951, they purchased their first and only home in the neighborhood north of the state capitol, where he lived until his death. Dan was the next-to-last survivor of what was, during its day, a close-knit neighborhood of diverse families, nearly all of whom had children in the same age group. The bonds formed in that neighborhood are a treasured part of the lives of all those who were fortunate enough to have grown up there.
Daniel began his law career as tax counsel for the State Board of Equalization, the predecessor to Montana's Department of Revenue. He then entered a private law practice for several years with his dear and longtime friend, Bill Leaphart and two other University of Montana colleagues. He left private practice, and for several years served as the law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugh Adair, with whom he formed a lasting friendship. He then began a longterm career as a trial lawyer for the Montana Highway Department, working primarily on the acquisition of the land needed to build Montana's interstate highway system. Until his retirement in the 1980s, he tried a number of jury cases each year against some of Montana's finest trial lawyers, nearly all of whom became and remained close and respected friends. During his legal career, he was counsel on over 60 appeals to the Montana Supreme Court. He also served for a number of years as a member of the Board of Bar Examiners.
Papa Dan loved sports, particularly football and golf. He was especially proud that one of his grandchildren is the line coach for the Great Falls Bison football team. If there was a Grizzly game on radio or TV, you can be sure Papa Dan listened to or watched the game. And if you missed the game, he could give you a quarter-by-quarter summary equal to the story on the next day's sports page. Papa Dan loved to golf and spent several treasured decades as a member of the Bill Roberts Golf Course. He was not quite the champion golfer his mother was, but he had a fine short game. As far as we know, no one ever saw him throw a five iron into the willows.
Papa Dan also loved to grow things, and his special passion was his rose garden. Several of the roses in that garden are more than 30 years old. During the winter of 2011-12, the stalks on one of his rose bushes (which he never pruned back in the fall) survived the winter. Last summer, that rose bush was the largest Papa Dan had ever grown. At the end of the season last fall, it still had over 30 roses on it. During the last days of his life, he was particularly pleased to hear the stalks of that rose bush were turning green yet again.
Daniel is survived by his five children, John (Ellie) of Helena, Michael (Charlene) of Great Falls, David (Nancy) of Dutton, Margaret (Charles) Virag of York and William (Laurie) of East Helena. He had 13 grandchildren; 26 great-grandchildren; and 2 great-great-grandchildren.
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Published in Great Falls Tribune on Apr. 12, 2013