SCHENECTADY — A man who made a career and a curriculum out of government administration is being remembered as a frugal steward of Schenectady County operations and continual advocate for its underserved citizens.
Robert D. McEvoy died Monday at 85.
He served as county manager from 1978 to 2000 and taught from 1980 to 2018 at University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy, where he was still a public service professor.
The Yonkers native and his wife of 61 years, Nancy, moved from Schenectady to Maine in 2020 to be closer to relatives. She said Tuesday that he died peacefully surrounded by family members.
Details of a celebration of his life have not been finalized but will include a service in Schenectady, she said.
He is also survived by daughters Karen, Patricia, and Victoria; grandchildren Dagim, Lucas, Silvio and Willa; and a sister-in-law and two nephews.
THE PUBLIC PURSE
In Schenectady County, McEvoy is remembered as a fiscal conservative with a strong frugal streak but also as an apolitical manager skilled at compromise. As one former colleague said, his greatest skill was counting to eight — a majority in the 15-member Schenectady County Legislature.
In academia, he instructed and mentored hundreds of students who now hold administrative positions in various government agencies.
Kathleen Rooney came to McEvoy’s office as an intern planning to do one project and leave but wound up working 14 years as his assistant and later served 13 years as county manager herself.
She said Tuesday that McEvoy’s legacy is the small army of people he mentored who today work in municipal management.
“I can tell you there are dozens and dozens of municipal managers and department heads that Bob touched,” Rooney said. “So he built this legacy of municipal leadership across New York state and beyond.”
“Great guy,” said former county Legislator Peter Guidarelli.
“I knew Bob as someone who treated the county’s pocketbook as if it were his own,” he said.
And he was frugal, often saying that pennies add up to dollars.
Guidarelli recalled the surprise of those present when McEvoy walked into a meeting one day with new glasses, after wearing an old taped-together pair for the longest time.
“With the number of years he was county manager, it’s refreshing there was never a question with his ethics and his integrity and his character,” Guidarelli said.
Another former legislator, Susan Savage, said McEvoy was a mentor in the county office building as much as at the college.
“As a brand new 30-something member of the county Legislature, Bob McEvoy really opened the door and showed me the ropes,” she said.
McEvoy taught that the non-elected manager’s role was to be nonpartisan. Democrat Savage and Republican Guidarelli said he practiced what he preached.
Asked by The Daily Gazette in 2000 whether he was retiring because of politics — there was some friction at the time — McEvoy, then 64, diplomatically replied that he was taking advantage of retirement incentives.
Savage said two other things that stood out about McEvoy were his love for his family, which he expressed often, and his concern for the under-served members of the community, which he demonstrated often.
“I saw his compassion for the less-privileged in many of the programs that were legislated in Schenectady County and in the county budget,” Savage said. “I know he worked closely with the Schenectady City Mission to make sure they had the resources that they needed … I think so highly of Bob.”
McEvoy was instrumental in creating the Schenectady County Business Center, an incubator, and in locating it in the impoverished Hamilton Hill neighborhood, Guidarelli said.
McEvoy also advocated for creation of a Public Defender’s Office, advocated again, and advocated a third time, when it was finally approved, Rooney said.
“He believed that all people should have strong representation, whether or not they could afford it,” she added.
Daughter Victoria Morales said she and her sisters all work in human and/or public services to some degree: She is a second-term Maine state legislator who has focused on housing advocacy, and previously co-created the Maine Youth Court; Patricia is a school psychologist and licensed mental health counselor; Karen works in long-term care for Schenectady County and is a massage therapist.
Morales said her path in life was informed by both of her parents: Her mother, previously a special education teacher for the Center for Disability Services, continues to work beyond retirement age as a licensed mental health counselor, and her father’s priorities were ethics and compassion.
“My dad always spoke about as a public servant, you are the voice for the voiceless,” she said Tuesday.
McEvoy’s involvement in teaching and practicing government administration stretched well beyond Schenectady County and the University at Albany.
He also taught at the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania, where he was a distinguished professor, and at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Over the years, he consulted with and addressed members of governments from Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, his UAlbany biography states.
One of his Albany colleagues, Associate Professor Ellen Rubin, said via email:
“Bob McEvoy dedicated his efforts at UAlbany to mentoring students and serving local government professionals. He trained students to be aware of the constraints and competing interests of local government, often through funny stories. Most of Bob’s students obtained their first job working in local government, and most continue to serve local communities. … He was a consummate professional, he cared about having well-managed local governments, and he worked hard to develop a strong pipeline of future local government leaders.”
Everyone heard the stories, Rooney said.
“For those of us that knew Bob, he always had a story to tell and it always had a lesson in it. It was his style of teaching.”