Construction magnate Michael Bette died Thursday while visiting his alma mater, Manhattan College, for a scholarship dinner.
The 76-year-old founder of national contracting company Barry, Bette and Led Duke collapsed on campus.
“He was a real hard charger,” said his oldest son, Matthew. “He wasn’t done yet. The shock hasn’t worn off.”
Matthew said his father’s heart gave out, despite his overall good health and clean living.
Bette’s career history is one of consistent growth and success. Forty years ago he struck out from his first employer, a Long Island firm, with business partner Robert Barry to start their own company in the Capital Region.
Over the next few decades Bette took the company national, with branches in Texas and Florida and projects all over the country. At the time of his death, he was responsible for $8 billion in construction projects in places like the Empire State Plaza, the University at Albany and all along the Gulf Coast.
“He knew that the recipe for success involved integrity, hard work and a can-do attitude,” Matthew said.
Such professional success often comes at the expense of family time, but Matthew said his father maintained an admirable balance between the two.
“He worked very hard, yes, but I don’t remember a night he didn’t make it home for dinner,” he said. “He might have to go back to work afterward, but he made it home for dinner.”
Bette and his wife, Mary Ann, raised seven kids in Clifton Park. Matthew is the oldest of five sons and two daughters, all of whom he said grew up with strong ties to their dad.
He recounted Bette leading his Boy Scout troop on overnight camping trips, coaching youth sports and always being game, despite his demanding work life, for spur-of-the-moment canoe expeditions from their second home in Lake George.
“He had five sons,” he said, “and all of us work together to this day. There’s no bigger compliment to a man than to build a family like that.”
He and his five brothers all run aspects of the Bette empire. Though the founder had handed over the reins a few years before his passing, there will be a hole, Matthew said.
Bette, who currently lived in Loudonville, was also known locally and across the state as a philanthropist. He supported a number of organizations, particularly those involved in youth services.
At various times he served on the boards of Hope House and the Twin Rivers Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Right up until his passing, Bette also served as a trustee of both Manhattan College and Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and was presented a honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from both institutions.
Bette’s local legacy includes the Southern Saratoga YMCA, which he built in the 1990s as a way of giving back to the area where his family grew up. Recently an expansion to the old building was completed. It bears his name.
He is survived by his wife of 54 years; sons Matthew, Mark, Peter, Kevin and Christopher; and daughters Ann Marie Parker and Suzanne.
Funeral services will be held at St. Pius X in Loudonville at 10 a.m. Friday. Calling hours are 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday.
In keeping with Bette’s wishes and in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made in his name to Catholic Charities in Albany or the St. Peter’s Hospital Foundation.