On a frigid day recently, Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. was in his office at the Town Recycling Center, heading off problems, immediate and pending.
There was no heat at the Medical Center, and he was on the phone with one of his team members, who was responding to the situation.
“There’s a lot going on in that building,” Jay said.
Meanwhile, the polar vortex had shifted and the weekend forecast called for two days of freezing precipitation, an eventuality for which Jay felt prepared. “We’re emergency response at the Highway Department, just like the police or EMS,” he noted.
Later this year, Jay will step away from managing Shelter Island’s infrastructure — roads, the Recycling Center, public buildings, parks and beaches — a job he was elected to three times in a row, and go back to working for himself and a partner in landscaping design, construction and maintenance.
Jay was a baby on Shelter Island, a child in Southold, and moved back to the Island before 7th grade. His parents had split up, and his mother, Carol McManus, who grew up on Shelter Island, gave Jay the freedom to decide between living with her in Southold or with his dad, Jay Linn Card Sr. on Shelter Island.
Jay chose Shelter Island, resulting in a lot of male-bonding time as he and his dad rode back and forth on the ferry to Jay’s Little League games off-Island.
Jay’s parents have passed away, but he has a large family, including a sister Marijane in Texas, two half-sisters Jennifer in Riverhead and Brenda in Chicago, four step-brothers and sisters and his step-mother, Marge Card still close by on Shelter Island.
An outstanding athlete for Shelter Island High School, Jay was All-League in basketball, baseball and soccer, and voted Outstanding Male Athlete in his junior and senior years. He graduated in 1980, and in 2015, was inducted into the Shelter Island School Athletic Hall of Fame.
His contributions to Shelter Island School sports did not end with graduation, but continue to this day. When he was only a year out of high school, Jay began his career coaching both JV and varsity basketball.
At Suffolk Community College, he entered a greenhouse management program, and transferred to SUNY Farmingdale, where he completed a BS in nursery crop production. He loved his coursework, especially one called “Rope Climbing,” an arboriculture class that provided each student with a saw and a large tree in need of pruning.
“It was blowing really hard one day and we asked what we should do, and our professor said, ‘Go up the tree,’” Jay remembered. “The winds were about 45 miles an hour and we were bouncing around pretty good, but he wanted us to experience real conditions.”
Back on Shelter Island, Jay started a landscaping business, and in 1985 began work as a Shelter Island Police Department officer after training at the Suffolk County Police Academy. He served for 20 years as a cop, six as a sergeant.
Jay met Judy Goodleaf in the 1980s when both were college students.
A long-time summer kid, Judy was waitressing at the Inn Between, one of the Island’s most-storied watering holes, when Jay stopped in to see his friends George Schultheis and George Goodleaf who were tending bar.
“She caught my eye,” Jay said. “It was a whirlwind romance.”
At the end of a magical summer, Judy and Jay went back to their respective colleges, and although Jay tried to keep the flame alive, they broke up. Judy married another guy, and Jay’s sister (who had married Judy’s brother) advised him to forget her and move on.
Fortunately, Jay is not the kind of guy who moves on. He was on duty one summer when he spotted Judy on the beach, asked her out, and learned that her one-year-old marriage was in trouble.
“I went out the next morning, broke up with my girlfriend, and I waited,” Jay said.
They married in February 1989. “The happiest day of my life,” he said.
Jay and Judy have three children; Michelle, who graduated from Elon College and is working for a market research company; Jay III who studied vocal music at High Point University and is now playing on the professional golf circuit; and Thomas, who attended the University of Rochester and is now living in Maryland.
During his years as a police officer, Jay found a lot of satisfaction in serving his community, in spite of the inevitable challenges. “It’s difficult to do community policing in a small place like this where you’re dealing with domestic violence one minute and having coffee next to the guy the next. Those situations are tough,” he said. “But I think a lot of good things come out of community policing. You can impact people in a good way.”
The day after Christmas 2009, Jay’s father called to tell him his doctor had found something, and by March of the next year, he had died from lung cancer. The intervening months were a time when Jay wanted to devote himself to his father, and he was secretly glad he had lost his first election in the fall of 2009 for highway superintendent, so he could focus where he was needed.
“I said I would be back,” Jay said. In 2012, he was elected to a two-year term, followed by two more, running unopposed.
Jay came to the Highway Department determined to avoid his worst nightmare, which he described as “seeing every bay in the Highway Department garage has a truck needing repair in it, and it’s snowing … equipment-wise, I felt that we were working much too hard because of the machinery we had.”
Jay credits Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) for helping to provide the grant money Shelter Island needed to get the roads back in shape. “Our roads were falling apart,” he said. “A road lasts about 20 years, and for a while we were paving at a 70-year rate. If it wasn’t for Fred getting us some money, we couldn’t be where we are now.”
“I’ve enjoyed working with [the Town Board]. They want to do a good job,” he added, “but I’ve been fighting this same fight forever. It’s unfortunate for the current administration, but some of my frustration is that it’s been lingering for so long.”
Jay, who has kids with college loans and a mortgage to consider, said he decided to move back into the private sector because he feels he has not been paid enough for the scope of work he does for the town, compared to other people in similar jobs.
Through all the years of commitment to policing and to the Highway Department, Jay always found a way to fit coaching into his life, no matter what his day job was.
“It’s so easy for me to stop whatever I’m doing and go coach,” he said. “I enjoy trying to make people better.”
Favorite place on Shelter Island? Gardiner’s Bay Country Club.
Favorite place not on Shelter Island? The Myrtle Beach area.
The last time you were elated? When my older son won his first golf championship at GBCC, and when my younger son gave his salutatorian speech.
What exasperates you? Watching people make the same mistake over and over again.
The last time you were afraid? When my dad died.
Best day of the year on Shelter Island? The annual Chicken Barbecue.
Favorite movie or book? ‘My Cousin Vinny.’
Favorite food? MacIntosh apple.
Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family? Jimmy Read.