Alfred E. Werner, a Town of Islip mainstay who helped shape Long Island MacArthur Airport from a single-runway outpost into a regional transportation hub, died Tuesday at Brookhaven Memorial Hosptial in Patchogue. He was 83.

The cause was intestinal cancer, said Mary Lou Cohalan, his longtime partner.

"The town, in many ways, is known for its airport," she said. "He was 'Mr. Airport.' "

When he retired as commissioner in 2007, Werner -- whom everyone knew as Al -- had spent more than 50 years at MacArthur, and was an MTA board member for 23 years. The Bayport native was an air traffic controller in the Air Force, and began in that role at MacArthur in 1951, when its commercial traffic was almost nonexistent.

In the ensuing decades, runways and terminals were built, and airlines, from Mohawk to American, came and went. But Werner's biggest success may have been paving the way, through infrastructure improvements, for Southwest Airlines to sign on in the late 1990s.

The airline financed a $40 million expansion; its arrival doubled MacArthur travelers.

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"Had it not been for his work, it wouldn't have been ready," said Chris Bodkin, a friend and former Islip councilman.

Frank Jones, Islip supervisor from 1986-1993, said Werner always "had a vision [MacArthur] could become a regional airport of importance."

The friends grew up during the Great Depression, collecting coal off the Blue Point railroad tracks.

"He'd say, 'Frank, we were poor but we didn't know it,' " Jones said. "That summed him up."

Later in life, Werner kept a home on Fire Island and took up crabbing in the Great South Bay. Werner was predeceased by a daughter, Jodi Werner Dee.


A wake will be held from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m. Friday at Raynor D'Andrea Funeral Home, 245 Main St., West Sayville. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday at Our Lady of the Snow, 175 Blue Point Ave., Blue Point. Cremation is private.