The Legato Legacy

Earlier this year the hearts around Mueller Memorial were especially heavy when we were notified of the death of Donald Legato. Don was a familiar face around our building having visited many times to pay respect to a lost family member, friend, or fellow member of the community. Don seemed to know everybody and everybody seemed to know him; it’s like that sometimes with cops.

Image of Police Officer Helping an Elderly Man
Police Officer Donald Legato snapped helping an unidentified elderly gentleman near Wabasha Street in St. Paul. Photo: Richard Anderson 1979

Born on the Eastside, Don spent 33 years in service to his community as a police officer. His daughter, Denise, described in her moving eulogy, that her dad lived up to his title of Cop, which she explained is short for Constable of the Peace. “His scrapbook is filled with articles about him catching bad guys,” she continued, “but the most revealing items are the letters and notes that talk about his kindness and compassion to people who were facing one kind of crisis or another.”

We definitely saw that kindness and compassion in the halls of our building, if nothing else, based on the sheer number of times we would see Don at services—he was a “regular” around here.

A funeral home isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when you’re looking for a local establishment to frequent, but Don knew that there were members of his community in need of help here—people who were facing a crisis in their lives. Even years after his 1988 retirement from the force, Don showed up and helped support families in crisis, like a police officer, like a man who cared about his community, like a Constable of the Peace.

Don knew that nothing could ever replace the act of showing up and being there for people in need, so he was frequently at services to honor, respect, and support.

The picture above tells so much about the kind of cop Don Lagato was. According to Denise, a photographer named Richard S. Anderson took it in the summer of 1979 in downtown St. Paul around Wabasha Street.  The photo was submitted to the Minneapolis Tribune Snapshot Contest, and was one of the six photos selected to go on to the Kodak International Newspaper Snapshot Awards in New York.

At the time the picture was taken Don was assigned to downtown and walked the beat, as he did by choice for his entire career.  He did not know the elderly gentleman and was just helping him cross the street when the picture was taken.  It was truly a candid shot that reflects the kind of man, and police officer, he was.

Knowing the kind of man he was makes it less surprising that Don and his wife Mamie were married for more than 60 years and raised 7 children. “And yet he still held her hand and wrote her love notes,” Denise recalls, “They always said they lived an ordinary life but the truth is they were quite extraordinary because of the way they lived and loved.”

It’s only appropriate to finish this article the way Denise finished her tribute to her father, by signing him out of service, “Officer 343, 10-7, End of Tour.” Thank you, Don.

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