Officials and friends remember John C. Egan

Former NYS General Services Commissioner John C. Egan, who played a major role in building the physi
John C. Egan
John C. Egan

Former NYS General Services Commissioner John C. Egan, who played a major role in building the physical landscape of the Capital District during his more than 50 years in public service at various state agencies, died on Friday. He was 86.

Egan served as commissioner of the NYS Office of General Services from 1980 to 1989 under governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo, and returned to the post in 2007 under Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

From 1995 to 2003 Egan worked as the chief executive officer of Albany International Airport and oversaw significant development at the complex that enabled Southwest Airlines to come to Albany.

Egan stepped down as OGS commissioner in 2010 and was most recently the president of the Renaissance Corporation of Albany, an organization providing financial assistance to low-income residents of the Capital District who want to work in the healthcare field.

In his career Egan also served as executive director of the NYS Dormitory Authority and commissioner of the NYS Department of Transportation, and was a major player on the team that built the Harriman State Office Campus and Empire State Plaza in Albany. He also served as chairman of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation.

Born in Plattsburgh on Oct. 11, 1929, Egan’s career in public service began in the powerhouse of Dannemora prison, where according to his friend and longtime neighbor Dr. Lyon Greenberg, Egan shoveled coal.

An obituary published on the website of McVeigh Funeral Home says he attended Dannemora public schools and studied heating and refrigeration at Hudson Valley Community College. He also served in the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division, 10th Mountain Division and 101st Airborne Division, eventually rising to the rank of staff sergeant.

Egan also served on the boards of various civic organizations, including the St. Peter Hospital Foundation, NYS Trooper Foundation and the Board of Catholic Charities.

Albany County Airport Authority CEO John O’Donnell said in a statement that Egan was often called “The Builder” and was “best known for his hands-on approach that guided the construction of the new Albany International Airport, lowered airfares and brought Southwest Airlines to Albany.”

“As a mentor, John Egan was responsible for launching the successful careers of many local and state leaders,” O’Donnell said. “His personal touch of ‘walking the track’ to meet with staff members and greet passengers has left an indelible mark in our hearts.”

Dr. Lyon Greenberg, who was Egan’s neighbor for 35 years in Voorheesville and is a board member of the Albany County Airport Authority, said he remembers Egan speaking with airport workers about their families on his many strolls through the complex.

“That’s why people loved to work for him,” said Greenberg.

Greenberg once saw Egan take notice of a newly completed brick partition separating two concourses at the airport.

“They had just finished bricking it, and he looks at 3-4 bricks and they’re chipped, and they weren’t terrible, other builders would’ve kept them,” said Greenberg. “And he said to the mason, “gee, they’re a little chipped, does that look good to you?’”

The next day, said Greenberg, the bricks were replaced. “[Egan] had a way to get people to do things without criticizing them,” he said.

Pastor Kenneth Doyle, chair of the board at Albany County Airport Authority, said he was struck by the way Egan took a personal interest in those who worked for him.

“What most impressed me was his ability to relate to people that worked under him,” said Doyle. “He seemed to have personal knowledge of the people and their families and would be in regular conversation with them about their families.”

Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy, who worked with Egan during the construction at the airport, said Egan never let his professional stature affect the way he treated people.

“He always had a smile on him and it didn’t matter what position you held around him, he made everyone feel equal,” said McCoy. “It didn’t matter who you were, what you did, he treated you equally.”

McCoy said he’ll always remember Egan’s approach to meetings.

“He gave you an hour,” said McCoy. “He said, ‘if you can’t convince me in an hour you’re not going to convince me in two hours.’”

McCoy said Egan was often called upon by governors on both sides of the aisle to tackle tough building projects in and around the capital.

“Every time there was a tough project they brought him in,” said McCoy. “You can be the most educated person in the world … but [Egan] was the type of guy that came to the table and solved the issues, and I’ll miss that the most about him,”

Greenberg agreed with that assessment.

“Every governor really depended on him whether they were Republican or Democrat,” said Greenberg, who spoke with Egan two days before his death. “He had good friends on both sides and was able to work well with both sides.”

But, added Greenberg, Egan’s biggest accomplishments occurred outside of his talents for overseeing state construction jobs.

“His heart was bigger than all the massive products he built,” said Greenberg. “He consistently stood up for the underdog and the people that are less fortunate.”

Greenberg said he was once driving with Egan on 1-90 east over the Hudson River.

“As we crossed the bridge over the Hudson some volunteers were picking up trash in bags to help keep the highway clean,” said Greenberg. “And he stops the car, gets out and goes over to thank them for what they’re doing.”

“I’m gonna miss the heart, it was always there,” added Greenberg.

Congressman Paul Tonko remembered Egan as the consummate public servant who cared deeply for people and loved those around him.

“It’s a powerful legacy, a very loving legacy that should stand as a measuring stick for all of us, he was a role model extraordinaire,” said Tonko. “His character was totally genuine, there wasn’t any need for pretense. What you saw was what you got, and what you got was a caring heart and a keen mind and a loving soul.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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