Officials praise mother of U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko; Frances G. Tonko passes at 99

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, in 2019

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, in 2019

AMSTERDAM — Local officials offered public condolences to U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, Thursday for the passing of his mother Frances G. Tonko, who died at the age of 99 on Sunday.

Mayor Michael Cinquanti has often credited the success of his mayoral campaign in 2019 to the support of Tonko, who has served Amsterdam for 45 years, first as a member of the county Board of Supervisors, then as a state assemblyman and currently in Congress as a member of the House of Representatives. Cinquanti said he remembers interacting with Frances Tonko a lot when his family lived in her neighborhood, and he recalls that she was a lovely person.

“I have always been a huge fan of Mrs. Tonko,” Cinquanti said. “She was such a great mom and so proud of both her kids. She was also an active and engaged citizen of this community for a lot of years and I always considered her to be the congressman’s most effective campaign weapon. She loved her family, her friends, her home, her church and her community and Amsterdam was so fortunate to have her among us for all these years.”

Frances Tonko lived most of her life on Princeton Street but was living at the River Ridge Living Center when she died peacefully Sunday. Social media posts by Tonko’s staff have indicated he and his family have asked for “patience and privacy” as the family mourns her death. The congressman’s staff did not respond to requests for interviews Thursday.

“Fran’s family offers thanks for the compassionate care provided by her medical staff and healthcare workers whose efforts filled her life with dignity and hope,” reads a social media statement from Tonko’s staff.

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort issued a statement Thursday offering his condolences to the Tonko family on behalf of Montgomery County, her lifelong home.

“Our thoughts and prayers at the county are with Congressman Tonko in his difficult time,” Ossenfort said. “His mother was a beloved and well- respected member of our community.”

Frances Tonko born April 16, 1921, the daughter of Boleslaw and Karolyna Bik Grajewski. She graduated Wilbur H. Lynch High School in 1937. She later continued her post graduate studies. On June 21, 1947, she married Stanley C. Tonko. They shared 68 years of married life. Stanley died on June 28, 2015.

Amsterdam native and local historian Bob Cudmore, who writes a history-themed column for The Daily Gazette, said he remembers the last time he talked to Frances Tonko was during Stanley Tonko’s wake in 2015.

“She was charming, and even though it was at her husband’s wake, she was more concerned about me asking ‘how I was doing’ and that kind of thing,” Cudmore said.

Frances Tonko’s obituary included information about her social and civic activities, including that she had been “recognized in the past by former Governor Mario Cuomo as New York Blood Donor of the Year.” She was also a member of St. Stanislaus Church and the Ladies Rosary Society; St. Mary’s Club 60, a past member of the Montgomery County Women’s Democratic Club. “She was appreciated as an energetic campaigner,” it noted.

Cudmore said Paul Tonko’s parents were both great assets to Paul Tonko during his many political campaigns, and served as important role models for his moral and religious convictions.

“I think it was true of both of the congressman’s parents,” Cudmore said. “The congressman is very religious, and I believe she was as well. I can remember going to a funeral for someone on a weekday from the St. Stanislaus Church and Paul Tonko was serving as the eucharistic minister.”

District 9 County Legislator Robert Purtell said he’s known Paul Tonko for a long time and was sad to hear of his mother’s passing. “Losing a parent is never easy, and I just extend my condolences to the entire Tonko family,” Purtell said.

Purtell said he remembers Paul Tonko’s parents’ role in his early campaigns for office. “His family supported his political aspirations since he was 18-years-old. I remember his father and his mother being down at the Amsterdam Mall when he was running for supervisor, getting signatures for him,” Purtell said. “They were always involved in his campaigns, and they were very proud of him and his sister also.”

Visitation for family and friends will be held on Friday from 9-10:30 a.m. at the Amsterdam Funeral Chapel, 13 Belmont Pl. (Masks required.)  Following visitation, a private funeral Mass will be live-streamed at 11 a.m. on the StStansHolyDoor Facebook page. Burial will be in St. Stanislaus Cemetery.

Donations in memory of Frances may be made to St. Stanislaus Church, 46 Cornell St., Amsterdam, NY 12010; Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Upstate New York and Vermont Chapter, 1 Marcus Blvd #104, Albany, New York 12205; or Montgomery County SPCA, P.O. Box 484, Amsterdam, NY 12010.

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