Stephen Sears had no trouble fitting into his new family. Quiet and easygoing, the New Bedford accountant had the right makeup for the role.

His girlfriend, Patricia Colwell, had a daughter and an ex-husband. Sears got along with both. He got along with everybody.

“It made holidays great, First Communions, vacations, all the things you do together as a family,” said Polly Pimentel Zajac, Colwell’s daughter. “Stephen was part of all of it. Our family was his family.”

The man who was a perfect fit quickly became a fixture.

He was the truck-driving father figure who helped people move from house to house. He was the handyman with a magic touch for electrical work. He was the cheerful dishwasher during Christmas parties. 

He was reliable for as long as his brain allowed.

About 10 years ago, early-onset dementia started robbing Sears of his independence. He had to leave the home he shared with Colwell for Hathaway Manor Extended Care. There, in the spring of 2020, he contracted COVID-19.

Three days after the diagnosis, he was unresponsive and in organ failure. He died at St. Luke’s Hospital from COVID-19 complications May 19. He was 69. 

After receiving his ashes last summer, Colwell said she felt like her partner was still out in the world somewhere. 

“When someone dies, there’s a finality, but a ceremony usually goes with that finality,” said Zajac, a New Bedford science teacher. “We couldn’t mark that. We couldn’t have that goodbye.”


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Large gatherings at funerals were restricted at the time, but the lack of a service, in Sears’ case, made some sense to the family. Sears was never one to seek attention and, when he was well, he kept a tight circle. Colwell was the center.

Raised in New Bedford’s West End, Sears earned an accounting degree at Southeastern Massachusetts University, now UMass Dartmouth, after graduating from Bishop Stang High School. 

At Shawmut Bank on Pleasant Street, he fell for a colleague, sparking a relationship that would last more than 30 years. Colwell, 10 years his senior, was his companion and, later, his caregiver. 

“Stephen was just a nice guy, always there,” said Zajac. “He was kind of a quiet person, but when he’d play cards at big family gatherings, those were some of the times he would be most animated. He had the mind of an accountant, so he was a strategist with numbers.”

He was an accountant, a partner and a paternal presence, even though he had no children of his own.

When Zajac gave birth to her son, Michael, 26 years ago, she offered Sears an expanded role. He accepted. 

“This gave him a family title: Michael’s godfather,” Zajac said.

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