Jessie Malecki was not afraid to speak her mind.
The lifelong Schenectady resident was known for expressing herself, for telling people what she thought even when it meant saying “I disagree.” And she knew how to do it without making people angry.
“She could have opinions and not rub people the wrong way,” David Giacalone, one of Malecki’s many friends in the Stockade neighborhood, told me. “That’s a wonderful skill. She wanted people to talk about things. She thought you could disagree with your neighbors and still be friends.”
“I don’t think she raised her voice,” Sylvie Briber, another friend from the Stockade, said. “She expressed herself freely, and you got her passion, but she didn’t have any anger.”
Malecki died peacefully in her sleep on Oct. 14, at the age of 96.
Her death leaves a void in the neighborhood where she spent her entire life, but also in the community at large, which benefited from her willingness to stand up for what she believed was right.
In many ways, Malecki’s life contains lessons – and inspiration – for us all.
She was a strong advocate for the Stockade, but her concerns went beyond her own backyard, as a sampling of her letters to The Daily Gazette will attest. She wrote frequently, sharing her thoughts on a variety of topics in simple, clear, direct language.
In one letter, titled “Long for return of a competent leader,” she wrote, “To read some recent letters, you’d think Trump is our savior. In my opinion, he is far from it.”
In another, she blasted the city of Schenectady for removing the Lady Liberty statue from Gateway Plaza, its longtime home. “City Hall keeps promising to preserve our history, like with the Nicholaus Building, and then changing its mind to help a favorite developer,” she wrote, in a letter titled “Leave Statue of Liberty in its Park.”
It saddens me to think we won’t be receiving any more of these well-written, pithy, sometimes cutting, letters.
In a world where people pride themselves on being well-traveled and change addresses frequently, Malecki was something of a rarity: She stayed in one place.
With the exception of a brief stint on Irving Street, she lived in the same North Street residence from birth until death, telling The Daily Gazette’s Bill Buell, in 2018, “Some people ask me, ‘Do you want to move?’ but no, I don’t. There’s nowhere else I’d like to live. Where would I go? I wouldn’t know where else to go.”
In 2014, Malecki wrote about growing up as one of nine children on North Street in a series of essays printed in The Stockade Spy, a neighborhood newsletter that Briber has edited since 1997. Her writing is engaging and evocative, recalling a time when neighbors were well-acquainted and quick to lend a hand, and downtown was thriving.
“If I was walking up the street, one of the neighbors would ask if I was going near Woolworth’s or one of the other plentiful stores on State St.,” Malecki wrote. “If I was, they would ask if I could pick up some item for them. … Downtown was a bustling retail area. We were able to walk to do all our shopping.”
“She loved the Stockade,” said Giacalone, who wrote a lovely tribute to Malecki on his blog, “Suns Along the Mohawk.” “She thought it was beautiful, and she wanted it to stay that way.”
Malecki’s obituary, printed on Wednesday in the Gazette, observed that “While Jessie may have preferred to be a stay-at-home mom to her three children, circumstances and necessity turned her into a ‘working girl,’ to her family’s ultimate benefit. A career provided Jessie with an outlet for her intelligence, attention to detail and wit.”
Jobs included being a “secretary par excellence” at several Schenectady law firms, the Board of Education, the company now known as the SI Group and General Electric.
Stockade resident Frank Marro met Malecki as a boy, at the age of 10 or 11.
He and his friends often hung out on the porch next door to the home Malecki shared with her late husband, Joseph, and sometimes she would invite them inside for parties.
“She had a great personality,” said Marro, now 64.
She could also be quite funny.
Marro chuckled as he recalled the time he and his friends were sitting out on the porch and Malecki returned home. “She said, ‘How are you guys doing?’ and one of us yelled, ‘We’re freezing our fandangos off!’ and she said, “Well, you’d better put a hat on them.”
Giacalone met Malecki about six years ago, when the two became involved in efforts to stop a casino from coming to Schenectady. Like many people, he had a hard time believing that the energetic Malecki was as old as she was.
“The day I met her, I never would have guessed she was 90,” he said. “She was a great friend. The people who knew her for ages, I really envy.”
When I looked through my old emails from Malecki, I was struck not so much by her opinions, which were plentiful, but by her kindness, and the beauty and simplicity of her observations.
“Enjoy the nice weather before we get another snow storm in the near future,” she wrote, in January. “I live five houses from Riverside Park and the Mohawk River so am praying for a slower thaw.”
In another email, from July 2018, she wrote, “Whenever I take a walk in Riverside Park like the other day, the river did not have a ripple and it was so calm and peaceful and I wished it would be so forever. The breeze made it like nature’s A/C.”
Malecki’s obituary notes that two weeks ago she “proudly submitted” her absentee ballot in the presidential election, and concludes with what she wanted for her legacy: for “people to pay attention to events globally and locally, stay aware and vote.”
It’s a fitting legacy for a woman who was true to herself and her beliefs, and believed that a better city and world was possible.
“She knew who she was,” Briber said. “And she had a lot of confidence in who she was.”
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.