A few hundred mourners attended Wednesday’s funeral mass in Saugerties for former New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey. Hinchey, who had suffered from a rare neurological disorder, died a week ago at age 79.
The mass at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church drew friends and family, along with former and current elected officials. They were there to honor the former Democratic state assemblyman and congressman described as a man devoted to the public, his family and the Yankees. Ulster County Executive Mike Hein attended.
“His legacy is going to be one of caring and love and courage,” Hein says.
Hinchey is being remembered as an environmental champion. He authored the act that created the Hudson River Valley Greenway. Hinchey also was the lead sponsor of the nation's first "Acid Rain" law. Again, Hein.
“On a very personal note, we’re laying to rest a dear friend, not just a dear friend for me personally and a mentor, but a dear friend to each and every citizen of the state of New York and, I think, all Americans, someone who stood for integrity, who stood up for what he believed in, was courageous and would not hesitate to speak truth to power and also someone who understood the importance of protecting our environment for future generations,” says Hein.
At least two former New York congressional representatives attended the service — New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Mike McNulty, who represented New York’s 21st District. Hinchey served in the state Assembly for 18 years, including 14 as chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee. He then served in Congress for 10 terms, retiring in 2013. Hinchey is also known for his work against the dumping of toxic waste by organized crime. Fred Isseks a retired Middletown High School teacher who taught television journalism.
“I started getting involved in investigating organized crime in landfills, and it was all thanks to Congressman Hinchey who, at that time, was an assemblyman,” Isseks says. “He was looking at landfills in Orange and Rockland County. We had one near our school that we were interested in, and he came in, held hearings and he continued to work at it and became a role model for my students and for me for years.”
In fact, in 1997, his students produced a documentary about organized crime and corruption in the toxic waste hauling industry. “Garbage, Gangsters, and Greed” was screened at the Woodstock Film Festival. Duke Devlin, a recently retired sight interpreter for Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, says he met Hinchey many, many years ago.
“He was for the people. He was for the people,” Devlin says. “He was a great guy and it’s a great loss.”
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill was one of the pallbearers, and state Department of Environmental Conservation police honor guard stood in formation. Following the service, there was a private burial on the grounds of the Catskill Interpretive Center, a facility Hinchey worked for more than 30 years to create. Jeff Senterman is executive director.
“We couldn’t think of a better place and a more fitting place to help spread his message and continue his legacy,” Senterman says.
The Hinchey family released a statement saying, “The Catskill Interpretive Center was a major part of Maurice’s life for so long that we found it fitting to be Maurice’s last home.” The Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center opened in 2015 and is a partnership between the nonprofit Catskill Center for Conservation and Development and the state DEC. It serves as the visitor’s center for the Catskill Park. Senterman says there will be a ceremony unveiling a headstone in the spring, and the public will then be able to visit the gravesite, which is some 150 yards from the center’s entrance, amid pine and birch trees. Again, Isseks.
“It’s the end of an era. He stands as the exact opposite of what we seem to have now. He was a selfless man who seemed to be absolutely dedicated to the projects that he worked on,” says Iseeks. “And, as people said inside, he was idealistic but he was also passionate. And he led with his heart. He knew what was right and what was wrong and followed it. He didn’t equivocate, and that’s what we loved about him.”