He came to Minnesota's capital city to make money, but he stayed because he fell in love with St. Paul.

On Friday, the irrepressible Ron Maddox died, leaving behind a legacy of civic pride matched by few in recent decades. He was 72.

He used to say he had read the Bible cover to cover, and though St. Paul was mentioned many times, he never saw the word Minneapolis.

He leaves behind the legend of a colorful character who lived hard, partied hard and looked out for the little guy. He was a promoter, politician, barkeeper and resort owner.

As big as his personality, Maddox never pulled any punches -- he wasn't afraid to throw any, either. He told stories of human foibles and political mistakes.

"He was a colorful guy, and people who didn't know him as well thought he was loud and harsh and a bit boorish. He wasn't," said Dick Zehring, a longtime friend. "A lot of people were intimidated by him. Sometimes it took people awhile, but eventually they'd admire him for what he really was."

What Maddox really was, his friends say, was a sentimental softie who didn't always get credit for being forward-thinking. He was a neighborhood advocate and fighter for human rights.

Maddox liked to drive big American luxury cars. His breakfast plate often had more salsa on it than eggs. His nickname was "The Bull." He used to say it was better to be the kingmaker then to be the king.

"He also knew that sometimes to get things done you just had to whack people, and he wasn't afraid to do that," Zehring said.

John Mannillo, a longtime downtown booster and friend, recalled one of the first times he met Maddox and went to shake his hand. "He said, 'Don't squeeze too hard. Last night I had to punch a pimp.' "

Maddox swore and scrapped, but he looked out for his city. He made more than 50 citizen's arrests and carried a bat with him while puttering around the Taste of Minnesota. "I always thought he would've loved to be a cop," Zehring said.

Maddox blew into town from Michigan in 1966 to expand an insurance business.

Blunt and brazen, he had little patience for phonies.

He got involved with city politics in the '70s and sat two terms on the City Council.

"The way he operated wasn't usually the way we did things, but we managed to work together," said Ruby Hunt, who served with Maddox.

When Minneapolis folks crossed the river, Maddox liked to greet them with a question: "Did ya get your tetanus shot on the way over?"

He co-founded the Taste of Minnesota in 1983 with Dick Broeker, an aide to former Mayor George Latimer. Their logic: Not everybody went to the cabin for the Fourth of July. The festival is still around, although undergoing some changes, and current co-owner Andy Faris said people can expect a Taste in 2010 with a tribute to Maddox.

Health problems had nagged Maddox for years, yet he managed to keep going.

"He was kind of a walking miracle," said City Council Member Dave Thune, who met Maddox more than 30 years ago.

Maddox died of complications from a stroke, surrounded by family members and friends at United Hospital in St. Paul. He is survived by his wife, Linda, and five children: Matt, Bill, Dori, Jamie Ferry and Sara Bjorklund. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148