Winning just in time

Dan Pawson and his wife, Andrea Saenz, celebrate the birth of their daughter, Rebecca. Dan Pawson and his wife, Andrea Saenz, celebrate the birth of their daughter, Rebecca. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Jillian Jorgensen
Globe Correspondent / January 27, 2008

Dan Pawson watched a lot of "Jeopardy!" in the past six weeks, as would be expected for a man whose nine-day winning streak ended this month. Whether he's on the show or not, Pawson is kind of a "Jeopardy!" junkie.

He missed only one episode - the one that aired while his wife, Andrea Saenz, gave birth to their first child, Rebecca Saenz, on Jan. 15 at 7:50 p.m., right around "Final Jeopardy" time in Boston.

Although Pawson took home the fourth-highest amount of prize money in the show's history - $170,902, plus a $1,000 consolation prize for his last day - the birth of his daughter topped all that.

"That sort of dwarfs any of the 'Jeopardy!' winnings, just having this little thing that grabs your finger," Pawson said on a recent Saturday, sitting across from his wife and sleepy newborn in their Allston apartment.

The 26-year-old Pawson earned a law degree from the University of Chicago and works as a legislative director for state Senator Bruce Tarr, Republican of Gloucester. With the same timing Pawson displayed on the show, Rebecca was born just six days after his last episode aired. The shows were taped in September and October.

Pawson will use the money, which he said will amount to about $114,000 after California and Massachusetts taxes, to help support his new family. He bought a new Toyota Corolla, and the rest will go to paying off student loans, buying things for the baby, a trip to Las Vegas for the new parents in August, and, when they are ready, a down payment on a home.

"It's really been nice to be able to plan how we want our lives to be without having to worry," Pawson said.

His winning streak came to end on Jan. 9, when he incorrectly responded to the clue "First mentioned in a letter by Clement IV in 1265, this item worn by the pope features an image of St. Peter in a boat." Pawson answered the pope's miter; the correct answer was his ring.

"It was a fair clue," he said.

"That's how Dan is. He's going to think about it for the rest of his life," said his wife.

Tarr, the state senator, said Pawson's success did not surprise him because he always finds facts with "amazing speed."

"Dan's capacity to remember details is just amazing. That coupled with his resourcefulness in finding information, I think that set the stage for his success," Tarr said.

Pawson's stint on the show earned him news coverage throughout the state and the New York borough of Staten Island, where he grew up. Strangers stopped him on the street to congratulate him, and Pawson's regular bus driver asked him why he was still taking public transportation.

But Pawson's not putting away his study materials just yet. He will have the chance to play again at the "Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions" in Las Vegas next January, he said.

He will study from a big stack of flash cards he made for his first stretch on the show and some trivia books. But it's all about being quick on the buzzer.

"I'm hoping that I can make up the knowledge gap in the next year, and [other contestants] won't be playing video games for a year to get better at the buzzer," he said. "Me, on the other hand . . ." he laughed, eyeing his new Xbox 360.

More important now is learning all about Rebecca, Pawson said.

"Being a dad is the next big challenge," he said. "That's pretty much going to take over my life for a while, and I can't think of a nicer thing."

Jillian Jorgensen can be reached at

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