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John D. ‘Jack’ Plumley

Published Mar 13, 2017 at 4:00pm

Former Oneida County Executive John D. Plumley of Camden, NY passed away of natural causes surrounded by his loving family on March 9, 2017, at the age of 87. Known to everyone as “Jack,” he was born in Camden, NY to Leroy and Bessie Audas Plumley on September 10, 1929, in the upstairs of the very home in which he would reside throughout his life, raising seven children with his wife of 64 years, Helen. Jack never had to look far for the meaning of life, for each day he found it in his family and in his community. 

He is survived by his wife, Helen, and seven children, Judy Plumley (Terry Pickard), Joel Plumley (Patti), Joanne Karboski (Frank), Jeremiah Plumley (Janice), John Plumley (Chris), James Plumley (Danielle), and Jennifer Dobransky (Mark), 15 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

A 1947 graduate of Camden High School, Jack joined the Army in 1950 and served with the Army National Guard. He married Helen Johnson of Groveland, NY in 1952 and began raising a family in Camden while working at Carpenter’s Hardware. He established J.D. Plumley Construction and built homes throughout the Camden area. He later founded Mad River Real Estate Corporation to serve the growing post-World War Two real estate needs of Western Oneida County. Jack was an expert in the development and sale of rural properties.

As his family grew, Jack felt the call of public service. In 1956, he began his political career as the Vice Mayor of Camden and would later serve for twelve years as an Oneida County Legislator, including two as Chairman of the Board. In 1980, Jack was appointed to serve as the Oneida County Commissioner of the Department of Public Works. When then-County Executive Sherwood Boehlert vacated his seat for Congress, Jack was appointed to serve as Oneida County Executive, a position he held through popular re-elections from January 1, 1983 through January 13, 1991.

During his tenure as Oneida County Executive, Jack was responsible for the expansion of the Rome Campus of Mohawk Valley Community College. He was a firm believer in the community college system, and his children attended MVCC for the initial part of their higher educations. In recognition of his support, Jack was honored by the naming of the John D. Plumley Science and Technology Complex at MVCC.

It is said that from the humblest beginnings come great things; and during his lifetime Jack dined with presidents and governors, built homes and founded businesses to serve his community. But it was often noted that Jack felt most at home beyond the edge of the world he built, at his family camp on Mad River and in the “deep woods” of the Adirondacks. The great-grandson of its first white settlers, Jack returned to the woods for over 65 years, where well into his 80s he could be found beyond the grasp of civilization with a pipe, a good book, and a quick smile. 

Jack’s dedication to community service and the needs of others guided his life, including his support of the Camden Volunteer Fire Department and projects throughout his hometown. Most recently, he worked on the Covered Bridge Project leading to Forest Park, which he dearly loved. A great storyteller and reciter of poetry, in politics and life Jack lived by the words of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena”, which he often quoted: “It is not the critic who counts. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who strives to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly...” As a testament to Jack’s character, the late Father Joseph Champlin, a life-long friend, wrote, “Jack’s unique ability to recognize good in those countless people he has met flows out of his own ability to recognize goodness within himself.”

To no one’s surprise, in the week before his passing, Jack was at his desk at Mad River Realty on Main Street, Camden, where he had worked for nearly 75 years. As flags were ordered to be flown at half-mast by Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente, the memory of Jack will live on in the hearts of his family and friends and the Camden community that he so dearly loved.

With heartfelt thanks, the family wishes to acknowledge the compassionate care and many kindnesses shown to Jack by the Camden Ambulance Service as well as the doctors and staffs at Rome and Crouse Hospitals.

A memorial service to celebrate Jack’s life will be held at the United Methodist Church of Camden, 132 Main Street, Camden, on Tuesday, March 14, 2017, at 11:00 am, with a reception of follow at the church. Private burial at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Camden. There will be no calling hours. Funeral arrangements are under the direction LaRobardiere Funeral Home, Camden, NY.

Contributions, in lieu of flowers, may be made in Jack’s memory to the United Methodist Church of Camden, Camden Ambulance Service, Camden Fire Department or Arthur S. Moran American Legion, Camden, NY.