John C. Egan

— Enterprise file photo

Albany at his feet: In 2007, when John C. Egan was in his 70s, he was selected by then-Governor Eliot Spitzer to act as commissioner of the Office of General Services. He had a view from the 41st floor of the Erastus Corning building at the Empire State Plaza, a plaza he had helped to construct the last time he was an OGS commissioner.

NEW SCOTLAND — John C. Egan, a long-time New Scotland resident and driving force behind many Capital Region projects, died on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. He was 86.

Mr. Egan got his start in public service at the age of 18 in the boiler room of Clinton Correctional Facility in his hometown of Dannemora, and would work his way up through the Civil Service system.

“He loved it,” said his son, John Egan Jr., “working with his hands, his tools, his big machines...interacting with both the guards and the prisoners...he was a real people person.”

Mr. Egan eventually became Assistant Commissioner of the Office of General Services — the go-to person under Governor Nelson Rockefeller for the construction of the Empire State Plaza.

From 1980 until 1989, Mr. Egan served as Commissioner of the Office of General Services for the state. In 2007, he was appointed to the position again by Governor Eliot Spitzer. He also served as executive director of the New York State Dormitory Authority and the commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation.

But Mr. Egan never lost his perspective as he moved up.

“It all comes down to the human condition — that’s what the government is all about,” Mr. Egan told The Enterprise in 2007.

“He was a person who picked up a number of lofty titles and he never let it go to his head,” said retired state Assemblyman John McEneny. “He was genuinely interested and cared about his fellow worker.”

“He didn’t feel that he was an important person,” said his son. “He was a simple, humble man.”

From 1995 to 2003, Mr. Egan was the chief executive officer for the Albany Airport Authority, heading a $184 million project to revamp the airport in 1998. Mr. Egan’s efforts brought forth a new air-traffic control tower, a telecommunications system, and an art gallery.

“If it ain’t broke, make it better,” he told the Enterprise in 2003. “That’s what I live by.”  

He was also credited for bringing Southwest Airlines to the airport.

“His charm brought Southwest Airlines,” said Dr. Lyon Greenberg, a New Scotland neighbor of Mr. Egan and fellow board member for the Albany airport, adding that it was Mr. Egan who dealt directly with the airline’s CEO.

A New Scotland resident for over three decades, Mr. Egan also chaired his town’s Resident Planning Advisory Committee, where he supported residents’ preference to keep the town in touch with its rural character while also drafting a master plan for the area along routes 85 and 85A.

Mr. Egan also served as the chairman of the Harriman Research and Technology Development corporation and the executive director of the New York State Task Force on High Speed Rail. He was the president of the Renaissance Corporation of Albany, a charitable organization that works with educational and medical facilities, and never retired from his position, said his son.

“I don’t think he could have retired,” he added.

 

— Enterprise file photo
On the job: John C. Egan made even routine press conferences lively. Here he announces a program on automated external defibrillators.

 

Humble beginnings

Mr. Egan was born to the late John W. Egan and Doris MacKenney Egan on Oct. 11, 1929, and grew up in Dannemora in Clinton County.

He attended Dannemora public schools and went on to study electrical technology at the State University of New York at Canton, and also studied heating and refrigeration at Hudson Valley Community College. He was awarded honorary doctorates from the Albany College of Pharmacy and the University at Albany, but otherwise did not hold a degree.

“I think he was very proud that, being a high school graduate, that he was able to advance as far as he did,” said his son.

Mr. Egan also served in the 101st Airborne Division of the Army during the Korean War, eventually rising to the rank of staff sergeant.

John Egan Jr. said his father and mother, Virginia Lacy Egan, were set up on a blind date by friends, and immediately hit it off. They married in 1953, starting what Mr. Egan would describe to The Enterprise in 2007 as a “long-lasting honeymoon.” Their son remembers them as a couple “always in love,” and “always together.”

Mr. McEneny said that Mr. Egan and his wife were devoted to one another: always seen together at events, raising their children together, and following their faith together.

Life on Krumkill Road

Mr. Egan moved to the Capital Region in 1960. He and his family lived in Albany prior to moving to New Scotland 32 years ago. Mr. Egan got to know his neighbors well, often helping them out when needed, said his son.

Mr. Egan built a house on 10 acres of fields and woods off of Krumkill Road, and enjoyed mowing the fields, pulling his grandchildren in a wagon behind his tractor, or even taking the tractor to visit his neighbors.

Mr. Egan’s building and mechanical skills extended to his home life. He not only built his house, but also restored an old barn on his property and restored a late 1920s truck and drove it around town and in local parades.

“I had never ridden in a car that old,” said Dr. Greenberg.

Mr. Egan’s children and grandchildren were often involved with his projects at home, whether plumbing or electrical work or adding an addition to the house.

“I think we all became pretty handy with tools,” said his son.

Helping the underdog

Mr. McEneny spoke of Mr. Egan’s strength of character as a public servant.

“It’s somewhat comforting to know that that there are public servants like John Egan,” he said, “whether they are in the public or private sector.”

“He was a man of great integrity and friendliness,” said Dr. Greenberg. “He cared about people from all walks of life.”

Dr. Greenberg can recall a time when he was riding in a car with Mr. Egan and they saw volunteers on Interstate 90. Mr. Egan, the Commissioner of General Services at the time, pulled over and got out of the car to thank the volunteers.

“That’s the kind of guy he was,” said Dr. Greenberg, adding that Mr. Egan would stop someone cleaning the floor at the airport to thank him, referring to him by his first name.

“He gave credit to those that worked with him,” despite having initiated the job, added Dr. Greenberg.

Mr. Egan’s public service extended to the town he lived in, said Dr. Greenberg. He recalled when his son needed a water line put in to bring his well water to his home.

“One Saturday, John Egan is out there with a ditch digger,” to dig the trench for the line, he said.

Dr. Greenberg said that he was always reaching to help the “underdog.”

“The town of New Scotland has lost one of its most outstanding citizens, and the state as well,” said Dr. Greenberg. “His heart was bigger than all of the prominent projects that he had.”

John Egan Jr., now an Appellate Division justice, said his father influenced his decision to go into government.

“He was a great man,” he said. “He led by example.”

****

Mr. Egan is survived by his wife of 63 years, Virginia Lacy Egan; his brother, Richard Egan, and his wife, Frances, and his sister Frances Egan Benson; his children, John Egan Jr. and his wife, Judy, Gail Egan and her husband, Reid, Dan Egan and his wife, Peggy, and Alison Egan and her husband, Peter; his grandchildren, Jessica and her husband, Scott, Jack, Christina and her husband, Andrew, Cal, Luke and his wife, Allison, Gavin, Ruari, Matthew, Ryan, Carolyn, Audrey, and Colleen; and great-grandchildren, Grant, Elizabeth, Hunter, and Colin.

His sisters, Esther Carrier and her husband, Al, Ruth Shambo, and her husband, John, Doris Breyette and her husband, Oril, Elinor Egan, and Alice Egan, died before him.

Private funeral arrangements were by McVeigh Funeral Home of Albany.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Wildwood Foundation at www.wildwood.edu or (518) 836-2305, or the National Kidney Foundation at www.kidney.org or (855) 653-2273.

— H. Rose Schneider

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