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Bennett 'was tough and he was determined, but he was also a big softie'

Bennett 'was tough and he was determined, but he was also a big softie'

Schenectady's public safety boss is laid to rest
Bennett 'was tough and he was determined, but he was also a big softie'
Members of local and state law enforcement acted as pallbearers at the funeral of Wayne Bennett on Saturday.
Photographer: Daniel Fitzsimmons

Margaret Bennett said many people only knew the tough, lawman side of her dad, Wayne Bennett; the man who served for 38 years in the New York State Police, eventually becoming the agency’s 12th superintendent. 

“Yes he was tough and he was determined, but he was also a big softie on the inside,” said Margaret Bennett. “Especially when it came to his daughters.”

Margaret Bennett told of a man who would play dolls with his three daughters, and liked to sing and dance to the music of Patsy Cline and the Beach Boys. 

“He let us brush and style his hair when he still had it, and held us while we cried over boys who broke our hearts,” said Margaret Bennett. “He cried at each of our weddings, and when our daughters were born.” 

Wayne Bennett, who served as Schenectady’s commissioner of public safety and deputy mayor from 2007 to 2017, died Aug. 15 at the age of 71. He was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. 

Bennett’s funeral was held at St. Mary’s Church in Albany, and was attended by dozens of state police officers and members of local law enforcement, as well as many current and former elected officials and public servants throughout the Capital District. 

In her eulogy, Margaret Bennett said her father was sometimes stationed away from home, but always found ways to make his love felt in his absence. One such occasion occurred when Margaret was 15 and poised to attend her first prom. Her father, stationed away from home at the time, couldn’t be present to see his daughter off on that special day, but left in his stead a heartfelt token of his love for her. 

“He wrote me a beautiful letter that I still have after all of these years,” said Margaret Bennett. 

In his public life, colleagues and friends said, Wayne Bennett was a consummate professional with unwavering integrity.

After his retirement from the state police in 2007, Bennett was recruited by Schenectady’s then-mayor Brian U. Stratton to serve as public safety commissioner. His mission was to bring order back to the city’s police department, which at the time was plagued by scandal. Bennett fulfilled the public safety commissioner role for a decade up until his death on Tuesday. 

Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford told The Daily Gazette shortly after news of his death broke that Bennett was an asset to the city and a man of integrity.

“He was very personable. He was someone who was very easy to like and talk to,” said Clifford. “But at the same time, if you did something you weren’t supposed to, he held you accountable. For that reason, I think we’re better off than before he came.”

Bennett was very involved in city government and attended most City Council meetings. He was also a regular presence at fire and crime scenes throughout the city, and played a large role in deploying resources to flooded areas following Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. 

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said Saturday that Bennett was a strong leader who instilled order and control within city government. 

“He was a good mentor and he also changed the image of the police department where it’s one that’s respected today,” said McCarthy. “There was a period time when the police department was facing challenges that were largely self-inflicted.” 

At his funeral Saturday, Rev. Robert Hohenstein said Bennett spent his time on earth serving others. 

“Wayne Bennett knew the value of time, as revealed by the obituary in the newspapers,” said Hohenstein. “The history of Wayne’s law enforcement career overwhelms the reader in all that [he] was able to accomplish in his 71 years among us.”

Hohenstein noted that Bennett supervised all of the state police’s rescue and recovery operations at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11. He added that the concept of not working after his state police career ended was a foreign one to Bennett.

“The word retirement was not part of his vocabulary as he soon became the commissioner of public safety for Schenectady’s police and fire departments, as well as deputy mayor,” said Hohenstein. 

Hohenstein went on to say that since his death, Bennett has been eulogized as a caring man and effective leader, who had integrity and was firm but fair. 

“I might add a word you don’t hear much anymore: Wayne Bennett was indeed a real gentleman,” said Hohenstein. “All of Wayne’s accomplishments however pale from who he was in his vocation as a loving and dedicated husband, father, grandfather and family man. In his sacrificial commitments, they too were shared by the support and sacrifices of his family.”

In closing her eulogy, Margaret Bennett said her conversations on the phone with her father, even as an adult, always ended with him saying “Iove you baby.” 

Not long before he died, Margaret Bennett said, she was by his bedside helping him get to sleep. She leaned over and whispered that she loved him.

“With his eyes closed, he turned his head towards the sound and whispered, ‘love you baby,’” said Margaret Bennett. “How fitting that those were the last words he spoke to me.” 

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