SARATOGA COUNTY — The man who led Saratoga County's Republicans for nearly three decades has died.
John F. Nolan, 83, known to one and all as "Jasper," managed operations of the county's dominant political party for 27 years and was the longest-tenured Republican county chairman in the state when he stepped down from that role in 2012 at age 77. He died Sunday in Connecticut, where his family lives, from complications of dementia.
As word spread about Nolan's passing, tributes to him poured in, many from former students at Corinth High School, where Nolan also taught social studies for 34 years.
He never held elected office, but Nolan was widely regarded as a mentor to Republican candidates who went on to win elections at the federal, state, county and local levels, in a county where the GOP has dominated nearly every level of government. He was party chairman from 1985 until 2012.
A shrewd reader of talent, Nolan was among the early supporters of former Gov. George E. Pataki when the then-obscure state senator from Westchester County wanted to challenge Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994. Pataki went on to upset the three-term Democrat.
"Jasper was an early supporter. Along with the Ulster County chairman, they were the first to agree to support me," said Pataki, who was governor from 1995 to 2006. "He let the Ulster County guy go first because that's how he was. He didn't need to go first."
Pataki and his wife, Libby, would go on to buy a condominium on Saratoga Lake and regularly attended Saratoga Race Course, where Nolan also sometimes tended bar.
"I'd see Jasper many times socially as well as politically," Pataki said. "What struck me is how well-known and well-liked he was by everyone. His leadership of the county party was superlative, but his sense of humanity was such that a lot of people liked him."
Former state senator and majority leader Joe Bruno, of Brunswick, who represented much of Saratoga County during his Senate career, issued the following statement: "Jasper was a truly great and caring man who proved to be a winning and resourceful leader in Saratoga County politics. He was a tireless advocate for local and statewide Republicans, and like many others, I consider him a good friend and even better person."
News of his passing broke on the county Republican Committee's Facebook page Monday evening.
"As Chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Committee for 27 years, Chairman Nolan led the Republican Party to tremendous and sustained success across the County, and he achieved statewide recognition for his outstanding leadership," stated the social media post.
"Chairman Nolan was recognized across the state as a kingmaker in the party, but to most of us, he was a mentor, a friend, a leader and a man who epitomized the values and commitment we hold so dear," current county Republican Chairman Carl Zeilman said on Tuesday.
Born Oct. 16, 1934, Nolan was a native of Mechanicville and an athlete at Mechanicville High School, where he was class president his senior year. He lived in Saratoga Springs' Geyser Crest neighborhood for most of his adult life and taught in Corinth. After his retirement from teaching in 1993, he was an almost daily fixture at county Republican headquarters in Saratoga Springs until his resignation.
“Saratoga County is an amazing place, and it’s been an honor to be a small part of the success we’ve enjoyed here," Nolan wrote at the time of his resignation in 2012. "Working with outstanding community, political and elected leaders has truly been a privilege."
Survivors include a brother, Tom Nolan, two step-daughters, Barb Rollison and Sue Hoellich, and their families.
Nolan's calling hours will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, April 6, at the Burke Funeral Home, 628 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Burke is handling the arrangements.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. on Saturday at St. Peter's Church. 241 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Burial will follow in St. Peter's Cemetery on West Avenue.
Memorial donations may be made to Community Hospice of Saratoga, 179 Lawrence St., Saratoga Springs, N.Y. 12866, or a community organization of the donor's choice.