Bob Purdy leaves behind fond memories
KEENE – On Oct. 19, former Keene town Supervisor and Essex County Disaster Preparedness Director Bob Purdy accepted the Lake Placid Hall of Fame induction award on behalf of his father, Monty. It was his last public appearance.
A month later, early the morning of Nov. 13, he died peacefully at home in bed while his wife Denise was up getting ready for the day. He was 78.
Simply, his heart gave out. But not his spirit, as all who heard his humor and stories at the Lake Placid Conference Center – and his wife, family and friends – can attest.
“I want everyone to know he was a great dad, a great husband and would do anything for his kids” said his daughter Nicole.
“He treated everyone like family,” said Josh Whitney. “He had that ability to embrace with his eyes that I think is a rare gift. He was a person who could look at you and you knew he loved you.”
Bob Purdy was a veteran serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1952 to 1956. He served two separate terms as supervisor of the town of Keene, spanning a total of 17 years: 1970 to 1982 and again from 1992 to 1997. He served as the director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board from 1981 to 1982 and as the Essex County disaster preparedness director from 1984 to 1991. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Assembly against Andy Ryan of Plattsburgh in 1974 and considered running for the state Senate against Ron Stafford in 1984, but did not file.
Bob Purdy was one of those larger-than-life personalities who filled any room he entered. He was gregarious and enveloping. He made friends easily and everywhere. He was known for his intelligence, humor and energy. He was also a person who made his opinions known.
“You never had to wonder, ‘What does Bob Purdy think?'” said former North Elba town Supervisor Shirley Seney. “He came out with, ‘Well, let me tell you this.’ He would go on, and by the time he got through, you knew where Bob stood, every bit of it. In my opinion, he was well respected. He spoke his piece. He said what he had to say, but he was a gentleman.”
Purdy was born in 1935 in Greece, N.Y. His parents Monty and Lorraine moved permanently to Keene from Rochester in 1946 when he was 11, soon taking over the Elm Tree Inn. The inn was famed under the Purdys for its food, especially their Purdy Burgers, and hospitality, and became a favorite hangout for locals, seasonal residents, visitors and, in particular, bobsledders.
Purdy grew up at a time when life was economically and socially tough in the Adirondacks. Most people worked seasonally, many going on unemployment for often half the year or more. Hunting was more than a sport; for many it was an opportunity to fill the freezer with meat. His mentor was his father, a legendary personality, sports promoter, raconteur and unofficial “mayor of Keene” who had a large heart and helped many families or travelers in need, often quietly with no fanfare.
Purdy was an end of an era that featured the long-serving Mayor Bob Peacock of Lake Placid, state Sen. Ron Stafford of Peru-Plattsburgh and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller – an era when politics was very much about relationships, doing favors and at times skating on the edge to get things done. For him, that might mean dredging the East Branch of the AuSable River of gravel before the ink was dry (or penned) on a state Department of Environmental Conservation permit to make sure some of his constituents wouldn’t get flooded.
He would press hard for the people of Keene and make no apologies about doing so. For most of his career he was a Democrat when few were. Thus, vitally important was developing bonds that crossed aisles in Elizabethtown, Albany and Washington, and with state agency staff, resulting in his ability to bring many grants and other resources to support Keene.
“With Bob Purdy, you knew where you stood,” said Moriah town supervisor Tom Scozzafava. “We had our disagreements, but at the end of the day we were still friends. I always respected him for that.
“As the emergency services director, Bob was right on top of the job. I remember in my first year as supervisor of Moriah, we had some major flooding and he was right here. He helped us through every step of the way. He helped set up shelters with a couple different power outages. He did the job very well, and he was very well connected. This guy knew everybody from Washington, D.C. to Fairbanks, Alaska. He knew them all. He had a great network built up. If you needed something, Bob was the go-to guy.”
He had hardships, none more than losing son and namesake Bobby to cancer. His home burned to the ground, and they lost everything including their pet. They later lost their barn to fire. Greatly distressing to him was being questioned over credit card receipts for town business; however, a state audit he requested cleared him. Disappointments also included the loss of a challenge to Assemblyman Ryan for his seat.
He successfully led the drive that brought Off Track Betting to Essex County (located in Ticonderga), getting ballot approval to transfer town land for state land to expand the cemetery, and laying the foundation for Essex County to develop a 911 emergency call system. He served 48 years as a member of the Keene Volunteer Fire Department, including as commissioner, and served as the national chairman of the U.S. Bobsled Committee.
“Bob was so personable and really cared about people,” Keene Councilman Paul Martin said. “He wanted to be helpful to people. He fought very hard for things for the town of Keene.”
He loved his work as the director of Essex Country Disaster Preparedness and, as town supervisor, led and was highly praised for the rescue response to an overturned bus carrying 48 people during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.
He loved the people of Keene, but for him and his family, his greatest accomplishment was as a husband, father, grandfather and uncle. In that regard, his good fortune was to die at home. He was also incredibly proud to be able to accept and speak to his father’s accomplishments as a member of the Lake Placid Hall of Fame, Class of 2013.
“He was very capable,” said Mildred Walsh, who worked with him at Essex County Disaster Preparedness Office. “How can I describe it? The work got done, very pleasantly. Every day it was, ‘Good morning, kid. How are ya?’ and then we got to work. I thought he did a very good job as director.”
“He did a lot for the town of Keene,” said his wife Denise. “He tried to look after for the people who couldn’t fend for themselves. Sometimes he would go against the establishment in a way to get the things done he felt needed to get done. He tried for years to get the rivers dredged because of the flooding. He loved being supervisor and fire coordinator. Sometimes he’d be to the fire before the fire truck got there.”
Purdy left behind two children by his first wife Ginny, Stephanie and Diane; his wife Denise and their two daughters, Nicole and Britney; two stepdaughters, Tammy and Heather; his sister Beverly and brother Ronnie, as well as a large extended family.
A memorial service, with honor guard provided by the Keene and Keene Valley fire departments, will be held at the Keene Congregational Church at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23.