Barely 12 when his mother died, Dan Scharfman grew up knowing life was precious and often too brief. And he knew how he wanted to spend his allotted years.
“The day we got engaged, we were cross-country skiing in Craftsbury, Vt., and he said, ‘When we have kids, I want to work part time,’ ” said his wife, Merle Kummer.
From the moment the first of their two children was born, “Dan wanted to be in their presence all the time,” she said. “He never wanted a day off. We never hired a baby sitter. They were the center, they were the fire, they were what kept him going.”
As generous a friend as he was a parent, Mr. Scharfman stretched each day late into the night to keep up a voluminous e-mail correspondence that eclipsed the miles between him and those in distant time zones. “I used to say, ‘Go to bed,’ and he’d say, ‘I’ll sleep when I die,’ ” his wife recalled. “His energy was just boundless.”
Mr. Scharfman, who served on the Belmont School Committee and ran marathons and ultra-marathons, died Jan. 20 in Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge of complications from a heart attack he suffered five days earlier. He was 55 and lived in Belmont.
“In the long list of graces he brought to his life, his gift for friendship was surely one of the most extraordinary,” his friend Robert Richmond of Los Gatos, Calif., said in a eulogy at Mr. Scharfman’s memorial service. “What made it so, of course, was his endless capacity for love. Beyond even that, though, was something else, something uniquely Dan. It was his versatility, his talent not simply for loving generally but for loving all kinds of people precisely for who they were.”
Mr. Scharfman offered affection to friends and neighbors who saw him pass through Belmont on training runs or admired his School Committee efforts, and to colleagues and clients he assisted as vice president for information solutions at Baird Associates, a technology consulting firm that works with nonprofits.
“He could have worked for any growing industry in the ’80s,” Beth Ann Strollo, executive director of Quincy Community Action Programs, said in a eulogy, “but he chose a less glamorous and certainly less financially rewarding path because he was committed to helping organizations that care for the less fortunate, the environment, the arts.”
Into a life overflowing with family, friends, work, and training for marathons and 50-mile races, Mr. Scharfman squeezed music and backcountry hikes.
A tenor and an able sight reader, he sang with Boston’s Cantata Singers and served on its board. Mr. Scharfman remembered “every note of every song he had ever learned, and he set out to prove it, usually at dinner,” recalled Richmond, who began singing with his friend when both attended Brown University.
Though Mr. Scharfman was fond of jokes and puns that drew groans, rather than laughs, and never took himself seriously, “he lived every day of his life as if it was his last,” his wife said, and those close to him learned to recognize that approach, too.
During a hike across a steep Montana snowfield a couple of years ago with his daughter, Rachel of Belmont, “he fell and avoided death by 2 inches,” she said in a eulogy. “After that, I started living my life like every moment would be his last. I am sure of his love, and he of mine.”
Daniel David Scharfman was born on the last day of 1957 and grew up in Lexington. His mother, Lotte Eichenwald Scharfman, was 42 when she died, and “I think of her every day of my life, and miss her,” he said three years ago, when accepting an award honoring her service to the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts.
“The fragility of life was always present for him,” his wife said. “I know we talk about the sense of death in somebody’s consciousness after they die, but Dan was somebody who carried that around him his whole life. He worried every day about what would happen if one of our kids died, or what would happen if I died. It was always present for him. That explains a lot about his essence. He would give everything he had to everyone he met.”
He graduated in 1979 from Brown University with a bachelor’s and a master’s, both in classics.
At 16, he began leading wilderness trips in Montana. While attending Brown, he traveled through India, where on the streets of Calcutta he “found a desperately ill waif of a woman, and sang to her until she died,” his brother Paul of Madison, Wis., said in a eulogy. “To say this experience was a catharsis is sufficient. From it, Dan pledged to be the gentle, giving man he became.”
Mr. Scharfman met Kummer while programming computers for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, where she worked at the time. They married in 1989.
As they walked to lunch one day, “I said, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ And he said, ‘I don’t want to grow up, and if I do I want to be a dog,’ ” she recalled.
No one failed to notice the playful puppy nature Mr. Scharfman brought to every encounter, yet he simultaneously was “a guide, an educator,” his son, Jacob of Providence, said during the memorial service at the end of January in Beth El Temple Center in Belmont. “Who among us has not found him or herself at a broken bridge, a cliff that seemed the end, and has not gotten whatever we needed in my father?”
In addition to his wife, son, daughter, and brother, Mr. Scharfman leaves his father, Howard of Madison, Wis.; his stepmother, Esther (Thomas) of Lexington; his sister, Helen of Congers, N.Y.; and his stepbrother, Thomas Wiedman of Berlin.
“I told Dan more times than I can count that he would have made a great teacher,” Richmond said at the service. “I see now that I had my verbs all wrong. He was a great teacher, and we were his students.”
Leading by example, Mr. Scharfman “was kind of a perpetual-motion machine,” his wife said. “He loved to read, but he would try to be outside all the time doing something. His mind was: See, do. He had this amazing intellect, but his daily mode was just do.”
Action and intellect merged in Mr. Scharfman’s writings. Along with endless correspondence to family and friends, he wrote essays such as one about running the 2009 Boston Marathon. In a playful mood as always, he found himself surrounded by overly serious runners.
Having proved himself by qualifying, and having already qualified for the next year’s race, he let his thoughts drift. He contemplated why he was running, and near the finish, he mentally calculated the moments he added to his time when he stopped to retrieve his hat and to assist a competitor who looked ready to quit.
“In the end I missed my goal time by 23 seconds, and I had spent those seconds well,” he wrote. “Think of it: If you had 23 seconds to spend, would you use them in painful pursuit of a goal you had already achieved, or saying hello to friends, picking up your hat, helping another runner?”
can be reached at