New London - Few of The Day's online commenters had ever met David Irons in person, but they knew where this conservative Waterford resident stood on many issues.
Riverside Park? Sell.
Snow plow complaints? Get out and do it yourself.
Media coverage of Memorial Day? Disappointing.
Irons, a Vietnam veteran, retired National Guardsman, one-time columnist for The Day and a thorough reader of theday.com, died Wednesday.
His wife, Maura, looking for a way to reach his online pals, announced his death Thursday by posting a comment on an editorial about political gridlock in Washington.
"My husband David passed away from a major stroke yesterday,'' she wrote under her husband's name. "As you can imagine, it's been a sleepless night. I would like to thank each and every one of you for the countless hours of entertainment and spirited discussion which you provided for him."
By noon, more than a dozen people had responded, sending condolences and saying they enjoyed Irons' "wit and wisdom" and "his reasonable views on everything."
"His insight and daily posts will surely be missed," wrote Brian12.
Dollar Bill called Irons' musings "thoughtful, well-written, to the point, and, most of all, logical."
Irons, unlike most posters, used his full name with his online comments.
Jeff Sonderman, the digital media fellow at The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalism, said he had not heard of a case of an online commenter's passing being announced the way Irons' was but found it fascinating.
"The best online forums and comment sections become places not just of exchanged words but of true community,'' he said in an email exchange Thursday. "'Community' means the people know and care about each other, not just the newspaper or the news they read. This case, where many members recognized and were moved by the mention of another member's death, shows why that notion of true community is so powerful."
Maura Irons said her husband had a massive stroke Sunday afternoon, with bleeding into his brain. He was taken to the emergency room at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and was alert enough to say he did not want surgery.
"It was either death or an operation on his brain, and they weren't sure it would save him,'' she said. "He spent three days, slowly dying."
Irons, 66, had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly known as COPD, and rarely left the house except for doctor's appointments, she said. But he loved interacting with people.
"Other people talk to each other verbally, he spoke his mind in writing,'' she said. "He would get up, have coffee and breakfast and immediately get online and read articles."
She said he loved The Day, which he delivered while growing up in Waterford, and loved reading everything.
Kathleen Mitchell, another frequent commenter, whose more liberal views often clashed with Iron's conservative streak, said she always was glad to read his opinions.
"Especially when he agreed with me,'' Mitchell said Thursday. She was one of the few who interacted with Irons online but also knew him personally.
"No matter what side he was on ... he was always a gentleman and I always knew he was my friend,'' Mitchell said. "I'm going to miss him. I'll miss seeing his name up there."
Maura Irons said she chose the political editorial to announce her husband's death because she knew those with whom he routinely exchanged comments would be reading it.
"You brought joy into his life - from the verbose Bud Bray to Dave's friend and sometimes adversary, Kathleen Mitchell. I especially thank 'Dollar Bill' who so graciously visited Dave while he was hospitalized. Thank you all again and keep up your wonderful comments," she wrote.
Later in the day, she said she appreciated the kind response from her husband's online friends, but she wanted people to refocus on the editorial.
"I want them to go ahead and do their thing,'' she said. "That's what he would have wanted."