Retired State Senator Bill Larkin, whose distinguished political career spanned nearly half a century, died Saturday at the age of 91.
His death was announced Sunday afternoon by his family.
“It is with a heavy but full heart that we announce our beloved Bill Larkin has passed away,” read a statement released by former Aide Brian Maher. “America and the State of New York have lost a dedicated public servant, soldier and statesman. Our family lost a husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and so much more. We appreciate your thoughts, prayers and best wishes. It is our hope that all of the people whose lives Bill touched in some way over the years will join us in celebrating his life over the coming days.”
Larkin, who retired from public office on Dec. 31, 2018, had the distinction of being the last World War II veteran to serve in the New York State Legislature.
Larkin represented the 39th District in the New York State Senate from 1991 until his retirement in 2018; the district includes the Towns of Plattekill and Marlborough in Ulster County, eastern and central Orange County, and a small portion of northern Rockland County. He previously served as New Windsor town supervisor and as a member of the New York State Assembly.
His senate successor, James Skoufis, offered these thoughts on Sunday afternoon:
“Foremost, I extend my heartfelt condolences to Senator Larkin’s family, especially his beloved wife, Pat. He cherished his family above all else and would occasionally remind me, ‘happy wife, happy life,’ a reflection of his devotion and admiration for Pat. I’m deeply saddened for their loss.”
“World War II and Korean War veteran; New Windsor Supervisor; state Assemblyman; and state Senator, Bill Larkin’s lifetime of service and unwavering dedication to our country will live on as an inspiration. May his memory be a blessing to the countless lives he touched.”
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer tweeted out his condolences Sunday afternoon:
“He was an advocate for all veterans, champion for the Hudson Valley and will be deeply missed,” Schumer tweeted. “My thoughts are with his family.”
Safe Harbors of the Hudson also released a statement, calling Larkin “a true champion” of our community.
“Senator William Larkin was an early and stalwart champion of Safe Harbors of the Hudson,” the statement read. “Where others were skeptical of supportive housing on Broadway, Senator Larkin showed true leadership and compassion. He saw the need of so many in our community while also recognizing the opportunity for a well-designed, mixed-use housing and arts complex to spur social, cultural and economic revitalization in Newburgh’s downtown. “
Larkin was awarded Safe Harbors Cornerstone of the Community Award at its inaugural gala in 2007.
“Word of Bill Larkin’s passing comes with great sadness,” said Dr. Kristine Young, SUNY Orange president. “He was the quintessential public servant. If it was important to his constituents, there was no issue too big or too small for which Bill would not fight in order to improve life for all of us. Among the countless issues on Bill’s agenda in Albany, education was right there at the top. He was a tremendous friend to SUNY Orange, and his imprint on our College will be felt for generations. He helped shape our vision of how SUNY Orange can more effectively serve students in Newburgh and throughout Orange County. Additionally, his backing of our BRIDGES program allowed us to create needed educational opportunities for students who might not otherwise have had access to college. All of us at SUNY Orange are grateful for Bill’s friendship and support.”
Among the highlights of his tenure:
- Passed the most sweeping veterans legislation in more than 30 years. The new laws increased the financial protections for families of U.S. service members.
- Sponsored and fought to have the Veterans Equality Act passed allowing ALL veterans to buy back up to three years of time while they were serving our country. Senator Larkin kept pushing this legislation and was unwavering in his support despite it being passed and vetoed two years in a row before eventually being signed by the Governor.
- Spearheaded the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, legalizing medicinal marijuana in New York State. This effort gained support after Senator Larkin raised the issue of how this treatment could help suffering children and veterans experiencing PTSD.
- Appointed to NYS Senate Heroin & Opioid Task Force, hosted public hearings which provided feedback from local experts and stakeholders leading to meaningful legislative action to address the epidemic head on.
- An ardent supporter of sportsman and the second amendment, voting against the New York State Safe Act and instead promoted common sense legislation and funding that would both protect our community and keep our schools safe.
- Larkin served on countless committees during his time in the Assembly and Senate including Finance, Rules and Health. In the Assembly he served as Assistant Minority Leader Pro Tempore and in the State Senate served as Majority Whip and Deputy Majority Leader of House Operations.
- Sponsored and passed legislation that required Pulse Oximetry testing on all newborns. This legislation has been credited for saving the lives of countless newborns throughout the State of New York. Senator Larkin was named “Legislator of the Year” by the American Heart Association for his work.
- Delivered millions in capital funding for projects and infrastructure investments that have been shaping communities in the Hudson Valley for the past 40 years in parts of Orange, Ulster, Rockland and Sullivan counties:
- $40 million to establish SUNY Orange Campus in Newburgh.
- More than $10 million to build, maintain and enhance the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.
- More than $100 million to support St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital.
- $1 million to refurbish existing education buildings on the campus of Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh.
- Secured over $2 million in funding for the Newburgh Armory Unity Center to ensure its adaptive re-use.
- Secured tens of millions over the last four decades to support local municipalities, nonprofit organizations and businesses looking to create jobs and provide workforce development training. Funding secured for these projects helped to ensure that local leaders avoided raising taxes on their own residents to pay for costly infrastructure improvements.
- As a member of the Genesis Group, established the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, honoring the memory and service of nearly 2 million Purple Heart recipients across America.
- Launched the successful campaign to create the Purple Heart Forever Stamp, a process than took more than 10 years to complete.
- Bought the Newburgh Armory Unity Center for $1. Today nearly 100,000 children visit the Armory annually and take advantage of countless educational opportunities.
Larkin has received countless awards for local nonprofit organizations, businesses and community leaders for his steadfast service to his community.
Mount St. Mary College awarded Larkin an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters for his outstanding service to his community, state and country.
In 2014, the United States Army presented him with its highest civilian award, the Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service, in recognition for his decades of services on behalf of veterans.
He is survived by his wife Patricia Kurucz Larkin and between them; they have eight children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, September 4 at the Newburgh
Armory Unity Center in the William and Pat Larkin Education Center, 321 S. William Street, Newburgh, NY under the direction of Quigley-Sullivan Funeral Home of Cornwall-On-Hudson. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, September 5 at St. Thomas of Canterbury, 340 Hudson Street, Cornwall-On-Hudson, NY.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Newburgh Armory Unity Center, Hospice of Orange and Sullivan Counties and Nora Cronin Presentation Academy.
All Town of New Windsor offices will be closed on Thursday for his funeral. In addition, the New Windsor Town Board Workshop and meetings scheduled for this week have been rescheduled for next week. The workshop will be held Monday, September 9, while the meeting will take place on Wednesday, September 11.