LAKE GEORGE — Funeral services will take place Friday and Saturday for Robert F. Flacke, the longtime Lake George businessman and former commissioner of the Adirondack Park Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Flacke, who was active in the community before suffering declining health in recent years, died at his home in Lake George on Saturday. He was 85.
“I’ve been mayor for 48 years, and he’s been active in the community the entire time,” Lake George Mayor Robert Blais said on Tuesday. “When I was first elected mayor and he was [Lake George] town supervisor, it was the first time the village and town shared services. Before that, the town and village didn’t even speak to each other.”
In addition to being active in state politics in the 1970s and 80s, Flacke and his family were the owners/operators of the Fort William Henry resort in the village for six decades. It was under Flacke’s ownership that the facility was expanded into a conference center and hotel.
“I think his legacy is going to be as one of the prime tourism movers in the community, with the improvements to Fort William Henry — the conference center,” Blais said. “Bob was a mover and shaker. If you had an idea for improving Lake George, you could go to him there at Fort William Henry and he would support you, both financially and personally.”
Born in Albany on Jan. 25, 1933, Flacke played football at Holy Cross well enough to be drafted by the NFL’s Detroit Lions, but he instead went into the U.S. Navy, where he became a submarine warfare expert, according to his obituary. He served 30 years in the Navy Reserve, attaining the rank of captain.
Flacke is the only person to have headed both the Adirondack Park Agency and the DEC. He was appointed to the APA board by Gov. Malcolm Wilson in 1974 and served until 1983. He was APA chairman from 1975 to 1979, when Gov. Hugh Carey named him to head the DEC. He served with the DEC until 1982, when Mario Cuomo became governor. (He had supported New York City Mayor Ed Koch over Cuomo in that year’s gubernatorial primaries.)
“New York state lost an undisputed environmental champion with the passing of Bob Flacke,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a prepared statement. “As head of the Adirondack Park Agency and commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, as well as in his professional endeavors outside state government, Bob Flacke fought to promote the natural beauty of New York state, particularly the Adirondacks.”
Seggos said Flacke’s legacy at DEC includes developing regulations that made clear that environmental crimes would be punished. He was also at the helm for the early response to the high-profile contamination situation uncovered at Love Canal in Niagara Falls.
As DEC head, he was also involved in creation of the Olympic Regional Development Authority in preparation for the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, and he remained on the ORDA board at the time of his death. When transportation and logistical problems arose during the 1980 games, Flacke oversaw the state’s response.
“Bob was involved with ORDA in the very beginning, and much of what the Authority has been able to achieve is due in large part to his ideas and leadership,” said Michael Pratt, ORDA’s president and CEO.
Peter Lanahan, of Malta, who was Flacke’s first deputy commissioner at DEC, recalled that when transportation issues arose during the Olympics, Flacke — within three days’ time — contacted Greyhound for organizational assistance and arranged to get school buses from all over the state, since schools were out of session that week.
“Nobody went to Bob and said, ‘We have a problem; can you help us out?’ Bob saw that himself, and he went to the governor’s office and said, ‘We have a problem,'” Lanahan remembered.
Through the family of his wife, the former Jean McEnaney of Albany, he became involved in operating and then owning the Fort William Henry tourist attraction, starting in the late 1950s. Prior to that, he was a teacher and guidance counselor in the Queensbury School District.
A Democrat in a heavily Republican area, Flacke served as Lake George town supervisor between 1970 and 1979. In the late 1980s, he was a member of the state’s Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century and wrote a dissent from the final report, which he believed gave short-shrift to the economic development needs of communities in the Adirondack Park.
Flacke also served on bank and hospital boards in the Glens Falls area and was a director of Finch, Pruyn & Co. Inc., the Glens Falls paper company.
“Our region, for many decades, had an incredible champion in Bob Flacke,” said state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury. “Capable, knowledgeable, passionate are a few things that come to my mind, as I’m sure they do for many others, when you think about Bob and why he was so well-respected and so highly effective. Lake George and the North Country won’t be the same without him.”
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Jean, and their children: Nancy (Mark) Reuss of Loudonville; Robert (Jean) Flacke Jr., of Diamond Point; Diane (Bob) Peters of Delmar; Kathryn Flacke Muncil of Lake George; and nine grandchildren.
Calling hours will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, 50 Mohican St., Lake George. A Mass of Christian Burial will begin in the church at 11 a.m. Saturday, and a community celebration of his life will immediately follow at Fort William Henry.
In lieu of flowers, donations are requested to be made to the church.