Tributes pour in as Boehlert, 84, dies

Longtime congressman hailed for efforts on climate, education and strong local ties

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NEW HARTFORD — Sherwood L. (Sherry) Boehlert passed away late Monday at the age of 84 at the Siegenthaler Center in New Hartford after a brief illness. Boehlert represented Central New York in the House of Representatives for 24 years, rising to become chair of the House Committee on Science (now the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology).
 
Funeral services for Congressman Boehlert are under development.
 
Boehlert was born in Utica on Sept. 28, 1936, the son of Sherwood and Elizabeth Champoux Boehlert. He is survived by his beloved wife, Marianne Boehlert, New Hartford; his children, Brooke Phillips and her partner, Tim Walter, Bedminster, NJ; Mark Brooks, New York, NY; Tracy VanHook and her husband, Herb, Rehoboth Beach, Del. and Leslie Wetteland and her husband, Elton, Jensen Beach, Fla. In addition, he is survived by his grandchildren, Harrison Sherwood Drahzal, Julia Drahzal, Katherine Drahzal, Palmer Suk, Chandler Suk and Diana Suk; his brother-in-law, Allen Willey, New Hartford; and his best canine friend, Molly Snowflake.
 
“Boehlert’s memory will also be cherished by his many friends, both in the U.S. Congress and throughout his Congressional District. He will be deeply missed by the many dedicated individuals who served on his staff. Sherry Boehlert set high standards for his staff and was committed to tireless constituent service and legislative excellence. He often said that an elected official is only as smart as the people who work for him. Numerous bright young people from Central New York and elsewhere worked on his staff often starting as interns from local colleges and going on to serve in prominent positions in government, academia and the private sector,” reads an announcement released by the family through Tim Clancy, his former chief of staff.
 
Boehlert was remembered by a raft of state and local leaders, each of whom hailed his accomplishments, his demeanor and his devotion to the area.
 
“I’m saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend, former Congressman Sherwood Boehlert. Sherry and I were colleagues in the House of Representatives for 15 years and our friendship transcended partisanship and even included sharing a locker at the House gym,” said U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, in a statement. “The rewards of Sherry’s dedication to his district can be seen today: whether at the former Griffiss Air Force base following the revitalization he spearheaded or as the Adirondacks teem with fish and loons thanks in no small part his work on acid rain. Sherry’s rich legacy, his support of science, his commitment to combating climate change, and his deep love for the Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley will live on for generations to come. My sincere condolences to his wife Marianne, children, and all who loved him.”
 
“Today we mourn the loss of a remarkable individual. Sherry was a dedicated and accomplished public servant who had an extraordinary career and proudly served his community and constituents with honor and distinction. He will be greatly missed and remembered fondly. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Marianne, his children and his family and friends who are grieving this loss,” said State Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-47, Rome.
 
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of my longtime friend Sherwood Boehlert. Sherry was the epitome of what an elected official should be: dedicated, hardworking, effective, and always willing to reach a hand across the aisle. During his long and distinguished congressional career he fought hard for the people of Oneida County, always giving us a strong voice with an emphasis on issues of science, technology and the environment. I was privileged to have worked on his first campaign for Oneida County Executive in 1979 and I owe much of my own career to his guidance. Eleanor and I’s thoughts and prayers are with his wife Marianne and their entire family during this difficult time. I have ordered flags on all county buildings to be lowered to half-staff in his honor,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., in a statement.
 
Madison County Board Chairman John M. Becker stated, “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Congressman Boehlert. He dedicated his life to the Central New York community. His legacy as a public servant will live on. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Marianne, his children and his family.”
 
Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-22, New Hartford said in a statement, "Sherry Boehlert represented our region for decades, first as County Executive and then in Congress. He was a fierce advocate for Upstate and a dedicated member of our community. I thank him for his service. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time."
 
”I was pleased to serve Sherry in various capacities over three decades beginning like so many, as a young intern on his campaign then to the Science Committee and finally ending as his last Chief of Staff. As a young person growing up in Rome, I got introduced to Sherry through my good friend Joe Griffo. It was a privilege to work for someone who was driven by doing the right thing for his constituents whoever they were, rather than what was the right thing for Sherry Boehlert or others such as his party’s leadership. To me that’s the mark of a great public servant. While that seems like common sense, that approach didn’t always win friends in Washington, DC where it’s often too easy to go along with the crowd. Sherry always put his constituents first and that showed in the tireless constituent service he insisted upon. A former staffer himself, he demanded excellence from his staff and it was not always easy but it was an incredible honor to work for him on behalf of my hometown and area,” said Tim Clancy, a former staffer, in a statement.
 
Clancy went on to relate an anecdote involving Boehlert and the City of Rome. Boehlert and others were “at the Savoy (restaurant) one day having lunch I believe with Shirley Waters and on the wall behind us were the photos of all the commanders of Griffiss and the Rome Laboratory. Sherry casually remarked he knew and worked with every one,” Clancy remembers.
 
Clancy’s memory continues, “That really stayed with me. He put his heart and soul into Griffiss and while it didn’t work out for the flying mission, much of the foundation we see today at the Griffiss Park -- the modern Lab building, DFAS, cybersecurity jobs -- was laid by Sherry Boehlert.”
 
Boehlert’s life and career centered on service, to his family, his friends and especially to the people of Utica, Oneida County and Central New York. He served in the U.S. Army and graduated from Utica College. After a brief stint in public relations, he went to work for Utica’s then-Congressman, Alexander Pirnie and eventually became his chief of staff, a role he also held for Pirnie’s successor, Donald J. Mitchell. In 1979, he was elected Oneida County executive, serving until he successfully ran for Congress in 1982 to succeed Mitchell.
 
Boehlert represented Central New York as well as portions of the Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes in Congress for 12 terms until retiring at the end of 2006.
 
Throughout his time in Washington, he never lost his focus on his hometown, to which he returned every weekend. He had a deep and abiding love for the people of Utica, Oneida County and all 16 upstate counties he represented over his 24-year career.
 
A moderate Republican, Boehlert became an influential member of Congress, playing a central role in debates on environmental, science and national security policy.Congressional Quarterly named him one of the 50 most effective lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
 
Boehlert’s impact on the nation’s environment will be felt for generations, the announcement said, adding that early in his career, Boehlert helped write the provision of the 1990 Clean Air Act that has greatly reduced acid rain caused by Midwestern coal-fired power plants. Those who fish and paddle the iconic Adirondack lakes are enjoying the results of Boehlert’s efforts to halt the lakes’ destruction, the announcement said. He went on to play the leading role in fighting environmental rollbacks proposed by conservative Republicans, and the National Journal admiringly dubbed him “The Green Hornet” for his success in protecting environmental laws.
 
He was passionate about educating fellow members of Congress on the science of climate change and led two Congressional delegations to Antarctica (including one with Senator John McCain) to highlight scientific efforts to better understand climate change and the threats to the Antarctic ice sheets.Throughout his career, Boehlert was a man of courage, conviction and accomplishment who did so much for the planet and the future, the announcement adds.
 
Boehlert was also a leading voice in Congress for supporting science and education as well as efforts to improve the nation’s competitiveness in advanced technology.He was Chairman of the House Science Committee from 2001 through 2006, energetically supporting increased funding for university research and for science and math education from elementary school through the Ph. D. level. He was a strong advocate for the many colleges and universities across his congressional district including Cornell University, Colgate University, Hamilton College, Utica College, Hartwick College and SUNY, especially the campuses at Marcy (Polytechnic), Morrisville, Oneonta, Delhi and Cortland as well as Cayuga, Thompkins-Cortland, Herkimer and Mohawk Valley community colleges.
 
From his senior position on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Boehlert directed federal dollars to major infrastructure projects central to the region’s economy today.Prominent examples include the NYS Route 12/North-South Arterial in Utica, NYS Route 840/Joseph Corr Memorial Highway (formerly the Judd Road Extension) in Whitestown and the preservation and restoration of Union Station in Utica which was renamed the Boehlert Transportation Center at Union Station in his honor.
 
He fought hard to block attempts over the decades to close or realign Griffiss Air Force Base but once it was finally closed, he worked strenuously to protect and grow the federal assets at the now-bustling Griffiss Business and Technology Park especially the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).To kick start the revitalization of Griffiss, Boehlert secured a special $25 million federal contribution (matching $25 million from the state) for a modern AFRL Rome Laboratory facility that bears his name.One of his favorite accomplishments was securing the commitment of the Clinton Administration to move a major component of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to Rome and subsequently growing DFAS-Rome to over 1,000 jobs.
Boehlert also served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and in that role was called upon to lead a Congressional delegation on a sensitive mission to meet with then Libyan leader Muammar Quaddafi.Boehlert also wrote the legislation establishing a science and technology directorate within the Department of Homeland Security when it was created after the 9/11 attacks.
He was a strong champion for volunteer firefighters and an original member and a Chairman of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.He helped establish a national fire grant program that provided millions to upgrade critical equipment and vehicles especially at small volunteer companies in rural towns and villages, including those across Central New York.
Upon retiring from Congress, he continued his advocacy for the environment and the need to counter the growing threat of climate change.He was selected to become a member of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a leading think tank.To continue his fight for the environment, he served on numerous Boards, including the Alliance for Climate Protection (led by formerVice-President Al Gore), the League of Conservation Voters, the Health Effects Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund and the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.
Finally, no discussion of Sherry Boehlert would be complete without mentioning his love of baseball especially minor league baseball, his cherished New York Yankees and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown that he was so proud to represent. He never missed an opportunity to promote and talk baseball especially at Murnane Field in Utica where he was part-owner of the Utica Blue Sox for many years. A visitor to his Congressional office would be surrounded by baseball memorabilia and often a conversation with Congressman Boehlert would turn to baseball to break the ice or disarm a potentially tense discussion.
 
The family would like to extend a special thank you to two of his former Congressional staff, Mr. Tim Clancy of Alexandria, VA and Mr. David Goldston of Arlington, VA for their care and assistance.
 
Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to Friedel, Williams & Edmunds, New Hartford, NY. Details will be announced shortly.

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