Stephen Gray Waddell


Stephen Gray Waddell, was born Sept. 9, 1947, in Madison, Wisconsin to Ruth and Dr. John Gray Waddell. He was third of six children: Mary Anne, John, Steve, Jim, Sue (deceased) and Tom. He is survived by a daughter, Samantha. He departed his earthly restraints on March 2, 2021, in Key West, Florida.

Raised Catholic, Steve went to Blessed Sacrament Elementary School, and graduated from Edgewood High School in 1965, where he played varsity football and was a field goal and point-after-touchdown specialist. He received his undergraduate degree from UW-Madison.

His education and life were interrupted by the Vietnam War. Steve felt he owed something to his country and enlisted in the U.S. Army in August of 1967. His basic training was at Fort Leonard Wood, and he attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning. He served with distinction as an Army First Lieutenant, Infantry Commander and Captain. Steve was a highly decorated combat veteran, and he earned the Presidential Unit Citation; the Bronze Star Medal, with “V” device, for Heroism; the Award of Army Commendation Medal, with “V” device, for Heroism; the Bronze Star Medal, First Oak Leaf Cluster; the Air Medal; the Silver Star for gallantry in action; and three Purple Hearts. When his injuries made further combat duty impossible, Steve served as a diplomatic courier for the State Department, and traveled to every corner of the earth. His love of travel continued throughout his life.

Steve found shelter from the storm in the Florida Keys in the 1970s. Key West was like no other place, and he found kindred spirits in Sid, Vic, Bobby, Dink, Groovy and Beebe, to name a few. This was when dinosaurs roamed the Earth! They waited tables, painted roofs, fished, partied, met movie stars, great authors and Keys’ cavemen.

In 1980, Steve was back in Madison, and headed for a Brewer game with his brothers Jim and Tom. In a simple twist of fate, they ran into to a couple of Tom’s friends, one of whom was Nell. Also known as Mary Vanden Brook, Nell became Steve’s sweetie that July day in 1980. Steve and Nell spent most of the ‘80s in Milwaukee. He got a graduate degree in Philosophy from UW-Milwaukee, while Nell got a law degree from Marquette. Baseball continued to dominate: The World Series in 1982, countless days spent going to double-headers: an afternoon Cubs game in Chicago, and a Brewers night game to follow. Many trips were made to Arizona and Florida for spring training.

In 1988, Steve had had enough of Milwaukee winters and convinced Nell that the Keys were where they should be. He came first, rented a house on Cudjoe from his friend Steve, and started lobster fishing with Skinny Jimmy. Nell followed and found work in Key West. A couple of years later, Steve found a house on Summerland that was surrounded by hammock. This would be paradise he claimed, although it looked like the Clampetts had just moved out. They moved in, and together they created a beautiful sub-tropical community on Summerland Key, replete with idiosyncratic friends, idiosyncratic cats and hundreds of orchids. All of this was on display annually at the Christmas croquet tournament.

Steve moved from fishing to working for some local non-profits. He taught classes for the Domestic Abuse Shelter and worked as a case manager with AIDS Help in the 1990s. He stayed connected to the fishing community and worked the office at Cudjoe Sales, where he was called Mr. Executive by his co-workers.

Steve was a complicated man, and an irascible guy in many ways. He had seen and experienced more than most of us could imagine. He was well-read, very smart, with a different view of things that enlightened. He had an interesting way of reading people that was usually accurate, and maybe he should have kept more of that to himself! Steve valued his friendships and kept many life-long friends from all walks of life.

Steve will be missed by those who knew and loved him. His ashes will be laid to rest in the Arlington National Cemetery for all time. America has lost a good soldier.

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