Barclay recalled as public servant

Former state Sen. H. Douglas Barclay. Provided photo

PULASKI — Former state Sen. H. Douglas Barclay died Sunday, leaving behind a legacy of exemplary public service.

Mr. Barclay, 88, was over the course of his vast career an attorney, state senator, U.S. ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador, military veteran and businessman, all while never straying far from the Oswego County land his family has farmed since 1807, now known as Douglaston Manor.

Educated as a child at Pulaski Academy, including for a time in a one-room schoolhouse, Mr. Barclay later attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., before obtaining his bachelor’s degree at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., in 1955.

During this period, Mr. Barclay, the son of Brig. Gen. Hugh Barclay, a career Army officer and a decorated World War II veteran, served as a first lieutenant in the artillery in Korea. Following his service, he obtained his law degree from Syracuse University in 1959 and became associated with the Syracuse law firm Hiscock, Cowie, Bruce, Lee & Mahwinney, now known as Barclay Damon.

In 1964, state Sen. Henry Wise, R-Watertown, vacated his seat to run for Congress, ultimately losing a primary to Robert C. McEwen, Ogdensburg. Mr. Barclay, then 31, ran for Sen. Wise’s seat and won. He would hold the seat for the next 20 years, initially representing Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego counties before reapportionment added most of St. Lawrence County to his district as well.

According to a 1984 story in the Times, despite the demands of his job in Albany, Mr. Barclay always made time for the north country.

“A typical trip might include a breakfast at Adams, a mid-morning announcement in Watertown, a luncheon at Alexandria Bay, a meeting with Ogdensburg officials at mid-afternoon, and a commencement address at Hermon-DeKalb Central School in the evening,” the Times reported.

His first major initiative was a push for the creation of a Corporation for Urban Development of New York and the Corporation for Urban Research, both to provide housing, commercial and industrial development, and redevelopment of urban areas. The package had grown out of the Joint Legislative Committee on Housing and Urban Development, which Mr. Barclay chaired.

The measure passed both the Assembly and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who questioned its constitutionality. A year later, the governor added Mr. Barclay’s idea to a new authority for redevelopment known as the Urban Development Corp., giving Mr. Barclay full credit for the idea.

At the end of the 1960s and into the early 1970s, Mr. Barclay dedicated himself to bettering his district. He was a member of the Mental Hygiene Committee, dealing with the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg, while also sponsoring bills to help small towns afford the cost of mandated sewage treatment plants or providing for the use of snowmobile license fees to build and maintain snowmobile trails. Another bill he sponsored allowed the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority to set up an industrial park. In 1970 alone, Mr. Barclay pre-filed 50 bills. In 1974, 15 of his bills passed in one week.

Mr. Barclay was dedicated to the economic and environmental improvement of the areas along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, as well as the Tug Hill. The St. Lawrence-Eastern Lake Ontario Commission was established in 1969, the result of a helicopter ride Mr. Barclay took with the governor over the two bodies of water, with the two men agreeing a commission should be established to help balance the interests of developing the area while protecting the waterways.

Mr. Barclay viewed the north country as a sportsman’s mecca, leading to his efforts to create a fish hatchery at Altmar. In 1977, ground was broken for what is now the Salmon River Fish Hatchery operated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. He was also instrumental in the formation of the Seaway Trail.

When Mr. Barclay announced in 1984 that he was not seeking re-election, he received a phone call from Vice President George H.W. Bush, who seldom involved himself in day-to-day politics, asking him to reconsider. That call was followed by a call from James A. Baker, the White House chief of staff who was heading up re-election efforts for President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Barclay would not be swayed to reconsider.

When George W. Bush became president, he reached out to Mr. Barclay in 2003 and nominated him as ambassador to El Salvador. The Senate confirmed the appointment, with Mr. Barclay serving in the position until 2006.

Mr. Barclay served on many corporate boards, including those of Syracuse Supply as chair of its board from 1988 to 2003, and Key Bank as its corporate counsel and secretary from 1971 to 1989. He also served on many university boards, including Clarkson University, Potsdam, and was chairman of the board of Syracuse University from 1992 to 1998. He additionally was president of the Syracuse Metropolitan Development Association from 1991 to 2003.

Mr. Barclay is survived by his wife of 61 years, Sara “Dee Dee” (Seiter) Barclay, and five children, Katie (Jim) Coyne, David (Alexandra) Barclay, Dorothy Chynoweth, Susan Barclay and Will (Margaret) Barclay; and 10 grandchildren. William A. Barclay is the state Assembly minority leader, representing the state’s 120th Assembly District.

Calling hours will be held 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Foster Hax Funeral Home, 52 Park St., Pulaski. A private service and burial will take place at Pulaski Cemetery at the convenience of the family.

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(1) comment


Nice obituary. Sounds like you had a lot to work with, tho. A very accomplished life.

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