Flooding victim's family remembers 'best dad ever'

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MADISON,Wis. (WMTV)-- The daughter of James Sewell-- the man who died Monday night after being swept away in flash flooding-- remembers her father as "the best dad ever."

"My dad was the best dad ever. He did everything for everybody else, always," said Debbie Sewell about her beloved father, James Sewell.
"Every time we were around each other, all we did was laugh."

Sewell said her father lived life with a purpose.

"He had his own garden with tomato plants. He wanted to make sure that every day of life was important," she said.

On Aug. 20, the day his life ended, Debbie says her dad was helping his girlfriend and brother to safety. When he tried to get himself to safety, he was unable.

Their SUV was submerged in high water on Chapel Hill Road, on the city's westside.

A nearby couple, Matt and Connie Phair, tried to help Sewell escape the rising floodwaters, but said the water was just too strong.

"I know that they are struggling with everything, too," said Debbie. "I can't say enough to thank them for everything they did."

Police would find Sewell's body 13 hours later, one third of a mile from where he was last seen.

"Every time I hear where they found him, it's a little hard because I don't want him to be remembered like that," Debbie said.

Instead, said Debbie, she wants people to remember James Sewell as the caring and nurturing man that he was to his daughters, granddaughters, and to his beloved garden.

Debbie says she will continue to grow her garden to keep his memory alive.

"I'm trying to take the best care that I can, because I know that Dad would have loved that, and he would be proud," said Debbie.

Debbie said she shared a Wednesday night tradition with her father-- the two would get dinner at the Great Dane in Fitchburg. This week, just two days after Jim died, the Phairs joined her family for dinner to talk about her dad. She said they are starting a new tradition and are calling it a "celebration of life."