Barbara Blanchard, a woman who spent a quarter-century working to make Schenectady a better place in which to work and live, both as a member of the City Council and as a private citizen, passed away Thursday after a long illness. She was 67.
Through her years in public life, Blanchard worked to reforest city streets by helping found ReTree Schenectady. She organized the Livable Cities series that ultimately helped shape downtown development planning. She ran the Schenectady Heritage Foundation and she was instrumental in getting the Schenectady Greenmarket off the ground.
All that was in addition to her time on the City Council, where she served from 2006 to 2013.
Her husband of three decades, Art Edelstein, described her Thursday evening as a woman who loved her city.
“She did things that mattered to her and that she thought mattered to her community,” Edelstein said. ”She believed in her street, her neighborhood and her city. That’s a big deal.
“That’s why she was in politics,” he said, “not because she was a politician. I think that’s why people liked her.”
Blanchard and Edelstein had one child, a daughter Rachel, now 27.
It was in December 2013 that Blanchard was named a Patroon, the city’s highest honor. At the time, Mayor Gary McCarthy recalled Blanchard’s perseverance, her tenacity and her friendship, and said all meant a great deal to many in the city.
By then, Blanchard had long been ravaged by illness. She suffered a stroke in August 2012, and never really returned to the public eye afterward. She also suffered from a progressive neurological disease. She died early Thursday afternoon from complications of both, her husband said.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
At the Schenectady Heritage Foundation, Blanchard was largely responsible for organizing the Livable Cities series that brought in speakers on topics ranging from urban planning to sustainability and quality of life. Concepts from those talks helped start momentum that led local officials and planners to make her historic vision for the city a reality.
Longtime friend Gloria Kishton, Blanchard’s successor as head of the foundation, recalled her as someone who, when faced with an obstacle, would just take another route around it.
“To me,” she said, “the best thing about Barb was she was such a can-do person.”
Blanchard long worked for Schenectady County Child Protective Services, first as a caseworker then as a supervisor. She also loved cooking and the outdoors, and served as a Girl Scout troop leader.
In addition to her contributions to ReTree, Livable City, the heritage foundation and helping make the Greenmarket happen, she pushed for the creation of the Union Triangle Historic District. She was also a Schenectady Energy Advisory Board member.
“When she believed in something,” her husband said Thursday evening, “she would work pretty hard to make it happen.”
She would also take people under her wing. Kishton recalled learning much from Blanchard. City Councilman Vince Riggi said the same.
“She was a good person, a good neighborhood person and a good activist,” Riggi said. “She did it all.”