To Craig resident Tom Maneotis, the late Saed Tayyara was more than a friend.
He was like a brother.
As youths, both men knew the terror of living in countries where freedom of expression and, at times, safety were not guaranteed.
Maneotis and his family lived in Greece during World War II. Tayyara grew up in Syria, where disagreeing with the government landed him in jail.
"What we suffered through during the war and what he suffered through : (in Syria) at about the same time, it just brought us together," he said. "We became bonded more like brothers."
On Monday, Maneotis was trying to come to grips with his friend being gone.
Tayyara died Saturday in Craig. He left behind about 30 years of political experience in Craig that included three terms as mayor and an election to a second term as Moffat County commissioner.
But although political involvement characterized much of Tayyara's life, he was more than a politician.
Tayyara also was a father and a friend.
Family man at home, abroad
Tayyara was one of nine children born to a Syrian family. Although he emigrated in 1963, he never lost touch with his roots - a fact his daughter, Lisa Tayyara Coffman, discovered when she accompanied him on a visit to Syria in 1995.
"I think probably for the first time in my whole life I really got my dad was when I went to Syria with him," she said. "I think it put a lot of perspective, just to see him in his element - with his family, in his country."
When Tayyara exhibited characteristic stubbornness or opinionated nature, the family chalked it up to "his Syrian inside," she added.
As Tayyara kept in touch with his extended family abroad, he also maintained his family stateside.
It wasn't always easy.
With the exception of a brief hiatus before his first county commissioner race, Tayyara constantly was on the move. Yet, despite the time required by his businesses and elected positions, he was devoted to Lisa and her brother, Fred Tayyara.
"I never, ever doubted that he would always come through," Coffman said, adding that she thought Fred felt the same.
And when it came time to become a grandparent, Tayyara embraced the change wholeheartedly, even volunteering for diaper duty.
"When I had my daughter, (Bella), that meant everything to him," Coffman said.
A hidden talent
In his early days living in Craig, Tayyara often could be seen with a knot of other concerned citizens, gathered at Craig Daily Press headquarters, said Bob Sweeney, the newspaper's publisher from 1961 to 1980.
Eventually, having a cup of coffee with Sweeney at the newspaper office became part of his routine.
Still, Tayyara had another side vastly different from that of a sedate morning coffee sipper.
It appeared for Sweeney during Ronald Regan's first presidential inauguration in 1981, an event to which the Sweeney and Tayyara families were invited. During their stay, Sweeney and Tayyara ate at a restaurant in a Sheraton hotel in Washington, D.C., where Tayyara worked as a busboy after emigrating from Syria.
After attending the inauguration, they went to a Greek restaurant.
Music was playing.
Spirits were high.
And, that night, Tayyara did something Sweeney had never seen him do before.
"He was the hit of the evening," Sweeney said. "I'd never saw him dance again or before - didn't even know he knew how.
"But he got up on that stage and just danced and put on the best show you ever saw in your life."
Determined to beat odds
Although Tayyara could elicit a few laughs, he also commanded respect.
Such was the case with Craig resident Tony St. John, who said he looked up to Tayyara as a hero.
Even as he was fighting cancer, Tayyara remained committed and positive. St. John visited Tayyara two weeks ago after he was hospitalized and battling stage-four lung cancer.
"He did not look good at all to me," he said. "He had a towel (around) his face, he was bleeding."
St. John didn't know what kind of reception he would receive.
But when Tayyara saw him, he appeared jovial and glad to see St. John, who had served on Craig City Council during Tayyara's last term as mayor.
"His last hard fight was with cancer," St. John said. "But : (Tayyara) said to me that he was going to beat it because he still had to fight and work and do his best for (his) community."
'Going to be missed.'
Tayyara also won over friends in his political sphere.
Although, in one case, forging a friendship took a while.
Even before Tayyara became a county commissioner in 2004, he and current Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers "butted heads pretty good," Mathers said.
After a particularly heated disagreement, the two remained at odds for several years.
"I told Saed a couple days ago, that I'm mad at myself for being mad at (him) as long as I was," Mathers said Monday. "I really missed out on a good friend because of that."
But when the two began working together on the Moffat County Commission two years ago, they began mending their friendship.
Their efforts worked. Eventually, they forged a working relationship characterized by mutual respect and even a little good-natured rib jabbing.
"I'd carry his books for him," Mathers said. "I'd kiss him on the forehead every once in a while and just embarrass the hell out of him."
And although he knew many people locally and had built many ties, Tayyara's political savvy wasn't the only trait that left an impression on his colleague.
"Saed was not only a great politician, but (he was also) a great man," he said. "He's certainly going to be missed."
Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org