Schenectady County

Brian McGarry, Schenectady County legislator, teacher dies

Brian McGarry
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Brian McGarry

ROTTERDAM — Brian McGarry, a beloved community leader who spent years on the Schenectady County Legislature and working as a teacher in the Duanesburg Central School District, died Thursday. He was 65.

McGarry, a Republican who served as the Legislature’s minority leader, leaves behind a lasting legacy that should serve as an example for all lawmakers, said Anthony Jasenski, chairman of the legislature, who confirmed McGarry’s death in a statement Sunday.

“All of us on the county legislature and in county government are saddened by the passing of Legislator Brian McGarry, but we remain truly inspired by his dedication and drive to continue serving our residents throughout his illness,” Jasenski said.

A cause of death was not immediately available, but McGarry was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer in 2014, not long after he was first elected to a District 4 seat on the legislature, representing the village of Delanson and towns of Duanesburg, Princetown and Rotterdam, where he lived.

Jasenski said that while their political ideas and affiliations differed, he considered McGarry a friend dating back to their time at Draper High School together.

“Having known him and considered him a friend since our days together in Draper High School, our political ideas and affiliations may have differed, but his record of public service should serve as an example for all of us on how to work together and govern effectively for the betterment of our community,” he said.

McGarry was a devoted public servant up until his death. He attended a legislature meeting remotely earlier this month, where he told those in attendance that his battle with cancer had taken a turn for the worse.

“It’s getting to be more of a fight, but I’m enjoying my representation on the county (Legislature), and a group of people — you can’t imagine. Wonderful, wonderful people,” he said.

McGarry’s battle with cancer was long. He received multiple treatments after his diagnosis and even traveled overseas last year to receive treatment not yet approved in the United States.

His diagnosis never kept him from his elected duties or seeking higher office.

In 2018, McGarry ran unsuccessfully to unseat Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, in the 111th Assembly District.

On Saturday, state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, said McGarry was a “great public servant with the heart of a lion” in a statement posted to social media.

Those that knew McGarry on Sunday said he was always interested in politics, and was a firm believer in conservative values who never hesitated to stand up for what he believed in — even if he had to do so alone.

But they said his legacy extends beyond politics, noting McGarry was a devoted husband and father to his six children, who cared deeply about his Catholic faith and dedicated his life to education.

He was a passionate photographer, who operated his own wedding photography business from the 1970s until he handed it off to his daughter in 2015, after his cancer diagnosis worsened.

Paul Grasso, a longtime friend of McGarry’s, recalled how they first met in a recreation hockey league in the early 1990s, not long after McGarry left his job as a videographer with CBS6 news in order to pursue a masters degree in education for the betterment of his family.

Grasso was initially stunned by the decision, but said McGarry excelled at teaching and impacted the lives of thousands of students over the years in Duanesburg, where he taught a variety of classes.

“It just knocked me over; I would never have the guts to do that,” Grasso said. “But he had it all planned out and it paid for him. He was a really successful teacher. Every day you’d go out with him an adult would run up to him and say, ‘Mr. McGarry, I went to college, I got a job.’”

By the mid-90s, the pair had grown close, and eventually Grasso began helping McGarry photograph weddings. He said the two were completely opposite (Grasso dislikes politics, never married and had no children) but there were never any disagreements, even when photographing more than 700 weddings.

Over the years, McGarry’s family began to feel like his own, Grasso said.

“We’re kind of opposites, but Brian reaches out to everybody,” he said. “I think I’m a good example of that.”

McGarry was first elected to the county legislature in 2013, but his career in politics can be traced back to 2010, when he ran unsuccessfully to be the Rotterdam supervisor, according to John Mertz, chairman of the Rotterdam Republican Committee.

Mertz recalled meeting McGarry in the early 2000s while serving on the Rotterdam Town Board. He said McGarry was well-versed in town politics but never gave any thought to run for office.

That changed in 2009, when Mertz, who was thinking about getting out of politics, was approached by McGarry to again run for office. He agreed, but with the condition that McGarry run alongside him for town supervisor under a new political party: the No New Tax Party.

McGarry was ultimately unsuccessful in his bid for office, but went on to become active in local politics, and eventually was elected to a seat on the county legislature, becoming just one of two Republicans on the board.

“He was a very strong voice, but was very thoughtful, too. I think that’s very important to keep in mind,” Mertz said. “He was a superb listener and he was very thoughtful about his decision-making. There was never a rush to judge with Brian. He just never blurted anything out. He was always very thoughtful in the manner of way he took to governing.”

Last November, two other Republican candidates, Josh Cuomo and Eric Hess, were elected to the legislature to represent District 4, which Mertz said “delighted” McGarry.

Hess, a Rotterdam resident, said he first met McGarry through the Rotterdam Republican Committee about five years ago. He said McGarry was a beloved fixture who always took the time to listen to residents, even as his condition deteriorated. 

“He rarely complained and almost always showed up at the county legislature meeting, despite getting treatment and therapy and suffering while battling cancer,” he said. “He was committed to his position on the legislature and serving the community as best he could.”

Joseph Mastroianni, a Rotterdam Town Board member running for state Assembly in the 111th District against Santabarbara, said he first met McGarry as a fourth grader at Duanesburg schools.

“He played official quarterback at recess,” he said. “He let us tackle each other, too.”

Mastroianni said McGarry is not typically the kind of person associated with politics, describing him as a loving, honest person who wouldn’t hesitate to stand up for his values.

He said the pair stayed in touch over the years, and in 2018, McGarry urged him to join the Rotterdam Republican Committee and convinced him to run for town board last year and eventually the state Assembly.

Mastroianni said he laughed at the idea initially, but decided to follow through because of McGarry’s influence.

In June, Mastroianni successfully defeated Santabarbara in a primary for the Conservative ballot line. The two are set to square off again in November’s general election.

“I just want to make him proud,” Mastroianni said of McGarry.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

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