As she hurried to get dressed for a Christmas party she was hosting with her boyfriend, Kate Kutasi distractedly began to putter with the table settings in the dining room. Her hair was still in curlers and the guests were due anytime.

Standing in the room alone, she stared at an ornament that had been given to her by a friend of almost 30 years, David Carlson. It was a depiction of Santa Claus pulling a sled with raccoons and penguins. Carlson loved to decorate for the holidays and usually spent hundreds of dollars each year on such gifts. That he had been killed only days before, gunned down by an apparent burglar just outside his home on Hannah Avenue, was suddenly too much for Kutasi.

“I was very sad and crying, when all of a sudden a very warm gust of wind came blowing through the window and the decoration landed at my feet,” Kutasi said in a eulogy at Carlson’s memorial service. “I suddenly felt very peaceful and I could all but hear Dave saying to me, ‘Girl, get those curlers out of your hair. Get your butt moving.'”

Family and friends of the 52-year-old Carlson said they were shocked to learn of his Dec. 20 death, which police have said appears to be a random act of violence. Carlson’s body, rendered lifeless by a single gunshot to the head, was discovered in the garage shortly before 9 p.m. by his longtime partner. Authorities have not yet made an arrest in the case.

“Everybody speaks so eloquently of the dead, I know, but Dave really was a warm, caring and remarkable guy,” Kutasi, a hedge fund manager in New York, said.

Carlson and his partner moved to Forest Park in 2001 after having lived in Oak Park since 1978. They had owned the three-flat on the 500 block of Hannah Avenue since the late 1980s and enjoyed being landlords. They were quiet but well-liked by neighbors, who said friendliness seemed to come naturally for Carlson.

“I would say that if you looked up the definition of good neighbors in the dictionary, Dave and [his partner’s] photo would be there,” said David Novak, who lives next door.

Shawn Sobczynski and her husband bought their Oak Park home from Carlson and his partner some six years ago and have had almost no contact with the couple since then. But on hearing the news of Carlson’s death, they remembered his generosity.

“It was our first home we bought,” Sobczynski said. “They left a bottle of champagne for us in the refrigerator.”

Carlson grew up in Kenilworth and worked as a bank examiner for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. He and his partner, who is fearful that the shooter may return and asked not to be named in this story, celebrated their decades-long relationship in a civil union ceremony held last May in Vermont. Each year they donated to a host of charities that included AIDS and cancer research. They supported tougher gun laws.

Politically, Carlson had very strong opinions, and even his closest friends had to learn which topics to avoid in conversation. He didn’t necessarily carry the flag for gay rights, but Carlson never rolled over either.

“He just didn’t tolerate people who didn’t respect others,” his partner said. “He was very conscious of it and pretty liberal. He wouldn’t take any [expletive] about stuff. When he believed in something he stood his ground.”

Marion Flynn, of Evanston, was Carlson’s boss some 30 years ago. Her lesbian partner was a friend of Carlson’s partner. The environment for gay people 30 years ago was “much different,” Flynn said, and the two bonded quickly. Over the years, Flynn has kept in touch with the Forest Park couple and received a Christmas card from them just days before the shooting.

“They were at our son’s birthday party for several years,” Flynn said. “He was very close to his nieces and nephews and, well into their expensive electronic years, he still got them the best and the newest [gifts].”

Carlson was said to laugh easily and often, even if caught while he had food in his mouth. He was passionate about music-everything from Patti Austin to Anita Baker, and in their last conversation before his death, Carlson was planning a trip to New York to see Kutasi and catch an opera.

Gooey cinnamon buns and tiramisu brought a smile to his face, said Kutasi, because he was smart enough to find happiness in the little things.

Not two days after the shooting, Carlson’s partner promised Kutasi that he would not become bitter. They had shared 30 years and countless memories together. They had found what some spend a lifetime looking for.

“Maybe that is Dave’s legacy to us,” Kutasi said at the memorial service. “To love each other and to live each day with the enthusiasm and joy that Dave always showed.”