Three generations of Governor Hugh Carey’s family are buried in the Catholic cemetery on Shelter Island. He was to join his wife, three sons and an infant grandchild there today following a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
The 51st governor of New York, Hugh Leo Carey of Shelter Island and Brooklyn — nicknamed “Huge” by his family for his outsize personality and love of life — died on Sunday, August 7, 2011 at his Westmoreland Farm home surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was 92.
Hailed for his leadership during New York State and New York City’s fiscal crises in the mid-1970s, he was governor from 1975 to 1982 after six terms as a congressman from Brooklyn, where he was born and raised.
“Life does not cease; it merely changes,” his family said in announcing his death on Monday using the very words Governor Carey himself used when he presided over the funeral of his two sons, Peter, 18, and Hugh Jr., 17, who died in a car accident on Shelter Island in July 1969. He added, “We thank God for that conviction.”
Shortly after his death was announced, Shelter Island friends and neighbors converged on the family’s home, Twillowe Cove in Westmoreland Farm, to share reminiscences with his sons, daughters and their spouses.
He will lie in state at St. Patrick’s Cathedral this morning, Thursday, with a Mass to follow at 10 a.m. The casket will be escorted from New York to Shelter Island via the North Ferry with an approximate arrival time at Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church of about 3:30 p.m. Island churches have been requested to ring their bells when the escort arrives at North Ferry.
There will be a brief service, officiated by Father Peter DeSanctis and other Island clergy. The casket will be closed.
Following the service, the community is invited to attend the Rite of Commital that will take place at Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery and a gathering following burial at Governor Carey’s home on Westmoreland Drive.
As Governor Carey himself remembered in a June 2006 interview with this newspaper, his connection to Shelter Island went back 50 years, when he was a city lawyer who had yet to launch his political career.
“The family had been summering in Breezy Point, in Queens,” he said. “We just had four children then and we started to stay later and later at the beach, trying to avoid the traffic jams. But there were always traffic jams. Everyone would be hot and tired and the kids all had sand in their bathing suits. I thought unless I do something — this marriage won’t last.”
He answered an ad for a rental in Shelter Island, a place he said he never heard of even though by then it had become a retreat for Brooklyn and Queens Democratic politicos. The rental, advertised at $200 for the month of July, turned out to be a room, he said. “But by then, we were hooked. The kids were in love with the ferry and the whole idea of being away for a month was great and we loved everything we saw around the Island,” he recalled.
They soon took a house but, as their family grew larger, they bought their own, an old summer house known then as “Hawthorne Cottage.” It had been owned previously by James Roe, the Queens County Democratic leader, whose family still lives in Westmoreland.
“We still have his table,” Governor Carey said in the 2006 interview, pointing out the 20-foot-long picnic-style table on a screened porch overlooking West Neck Bay. “That’s where he used to sit, right at the head of that table. That’s where all the patronage in Queens was handed out.”
The governor continued to live in the same house until his death. The family also acquired a Shorewood residence to handle the overflow as more grandchildren joined the tribe.
His career in public service began in 1939, when he enlisted as a private in the 101st Cavalry, Squadron C, of the New York National Guard. He served with the Timberwolf Division, which took part in the liberation the Nordhausen concentration camp. A recipient of the Combat Infantry Award, Bronze Star and the Croix de Guerre, he left active duty with the rank of colonel.
In his first political campaign in 1960, Mr. Carey was elected as a Democrat to Congress from the 12th Congressional District in Brooklyn the same year that John F. Kennedy was elected president. He returned for six more terms from the 15th C.D. after district lines were re-drawn. He served on the Education and Labor Committee, the Interior Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.
He was a member of the group of congressional leaders called “The Four Horsemen,” with Senators Ted Kennedy and Patrick Daniel Moynihan and Congressman Tip O’Neill, who advocated for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland. The governor founded the Carey Cup, a tournament between the Metropolitan Golf Association and the Golfing Union of Ireland.
He was elected governor on November 5, 1974, the first Democrat in that office in 16 years, and was re-elected in 1978 against another candidate with East End connections, Perry Duryea of Montauk.
As governor, he was the architect of the financial plan that averted the bankruptcy of New York City.
“The days of wine and roses are over,” the governor said of the state’s fiscal crisis in his first State of the State Address. Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty, meeting him at a political reception for Governor David Paterson at Governor Carey’s home in 2008, said the first thing the governor said to him was, “You stole my line!” because Mr. Dougherty had said the same thing about town finances after his election in 2007.
“Governor Carey was a very great man and a dear, devoted friend of Shelter Island,” the supervisor said Monday.
State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, a Republican, stated: “Governor Hugh Carey was a friend and resident of the First Senatorial District whose work to save New York City and New York State was exemplary. Governor Carey will also be remembered for his vision, leadership and enactment of sweeping reforms for the care of the developmentally disabled and our personal relationship is one that I will always cherish.”
One of his earliest acts as governor was signing the historic Willowbrook consent decree, committing New York State to sweeping reforms in the care of the developmentally disabled. He instituted the “I Love New York” campaign and founded the Empire State Games.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Governor Carey represented New York State at funerals for fallen firefighters throughout the five boroughs and surrounding counties.
On Shelter Island, the governor sought to keep a low profile. But he was a major force behind the scenes supporting the Nature Conservancy’s efforts to buy the 2.039-acre Mashomack Preserve, a former private hunting property. In 2006, it was through his intercession that the state Department of Environmental Conservation reversed course and agreed to let Shelter Island test the effectiveness of the “4-poster” deer-feeding device in killing ticks. The DEC relented after Governor Carey sent a letter to then-governor George Pataki, a Republican, asking him to order the DEC to approve the experiment as a matter of public health. Governor Pataki did so.
After a five-year test, the devices were found to have been highly effective, according to a final report issued this year.
Sometimes his activities here drew unwelcome press attention. In 1980, the state abruptly moved to condemn an acre of land next to the Carey property owned by a Scarsdale dentist with whom the governor had been negotiating a real estate deal. The state said the land was needed to provide security for the governor’s family. After the story made front pages across the state, the governor’s office announced he would countermand the state and return the property to his neighbor.
According to Westmoreland’s John Roe, son of James Roe and a long-time friend of the governor and his family, Hugh Carey was never a good golfer, nor was he a boater or fisherman, like many Shelter Island summer residents. He most enjoyed the good company of his children and their families, he said. “He just absolutely loved to come out here … This is where he wanted to be,” Mr. Roe said.
“His larger-than-life spirit was indomitable,” his children said. “Friends and family knew him simply as ‘Huge.’”
At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Supervisor Dougherty spoke of “two great Shelter Islanders,” William “Scratchy” Johnston Jr., who died on Friday, August 5 (see obituary, page 1), and Governor Carey.
He told how the governor had two close friends on the Island dubbed his “kitchen cabinet,” the late Jake Piccozzi, proprietor of Piccozzi Fuels, and the late Charlie Disch, proprietor of the Shelter Island Pharmacy. Mr. Dougherty told how, in the 1970s, the governor would drive into the Heights in a convertible and pick up the two men to go for a ride, “talking and waving and solving the problems of the nation” and the state and the town.
BORN IN BROOKLYN
He was born April 11, 1919 in Brooklyn, the third of Margaret and Dennis Carey’s six sons. When he was a boy, Hugh Carey’s family endured the Depression and went on to form the Peerless Oil Company, a business they started as an offshoot of Margaret Collins Carey’s barrel business. His mother’s ancestors were from County Tyrone, Ireland and his father’s from County Galway.
He attended St. Augustine’s School in Park Slope and graduated from St. John’s University and St. John’s University Law School.
He married Helen Owen Twohy on February 27, 1947 in the Lady Chapel of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They had 14 children: Alexandria, Christopher, Susan, the late Peter and Hugh Jr.; Michael, Donald, Marianne, Nancy, Helen, Bryan, the late Paul, Kevin and Thomas.
Mrs. Carey died of cancer in March 1974. His marriage to Evangeline Gouletas in 1981 ended in divorce.
The large Carey family became a well-known feature of the Carey gubernatorial campaigns with family postcards and appearances at county fairs as they crisscrossed the state in a Winnebago.
Known as much for his wit as his powerful intellect, the governor had the gift of Irish charm and the love of good song, his family said. “He was proud to call the legendary Frank Sinatra his friend and adopted ‘New York, New York’ as his signature song, according to the family.
“Channeling Maurice Chevalier, he regaled guests at the many family weddings with his popular rendition of ‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls.’ His sartorial taste was colorful and impeccable. ‘Hats off to Hugh’ became the motto for birthday celebrations into his 10th decade of life,” according to his family.
Among his many awards and recognitions, his favorite was an honorary degree in “Elan and Joie de Vivre.”
AT HIS BEDSIDE
At his beside Sunday were his children and their spouses Randy and Hank McManus; Chris and Bonnie; Susan and Martin Dempsey; Michael, Donald and Mary Anne; Dennis and Marianne Hayes; Helen and Martin O’Neill; Bryan and Catherine; Kevin and Mary Jo; and Thomas and Amy. He also is survived by 25 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
His brothers Edward and George pre-deceased him; he is survived by brothers Dennis, John and Martin.
The family received friends on Tuesday and Wednesday at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in New York. The body was to lie in state at the Cathedral of St. Patrick, Lady Chapel, in New York early today, Thursday, August 11, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at the cathedral’s main altar.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be sent to Our Lady of the Isle Roman Catholic Church, P.O. Box 3027, Shelter Island Heights, New York 11965 or The Paul R. Carey Foundation, 20 Corporate Woods Boulevard, Albany, New York 12211