Richard Deem, a nuclear engineer who won a battle for Great Neck mayor in that village's first contested election in more than a half-century, died Monday of advanced prostate cancer. He was 67.
Deem was born in Freeport on June 25, 1946, and lived in Freeport and Bellmore before moving to Great Neck, said his wife, Karyn Deem of Great Neck.
He attended Nassau Community College and Adelphi University, where he studied physics, before getting a doctorate in nuclear engineering at Imperial College in London -- inspired, his wife said, by a physicist who once spoke to Deem's high school class.
Deem said her husband worked at the Indian Point nuclear power plant and traveled nationally and internationally conducting safety inspections at other plants. He spent the last 20 years of his career working at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, she said.
"He was a problem solver," she said. "It just gave him so much pleasure to know that he was able to solve these problems and know that everything was done properly and done right."
Richard Deem ran for mayor in 2003, spurred by his opposition to Great Neck's plans to divert its sewage to the Cedar Creek sewage treatment plant in Wantagh rather than treating it locally. He started his own party, the Village Preservation Party, said Harry N. Heinemann, who became its president and served as Deem's mayoral assistant during his term.
Deem served as mayor from 2003 to 2007, presiding over a board filled with trustees from an opposing party.
"He was very frustrated," Heinemann said of Deem's time in office. "But he got enormous satisfaction from doing things that helped the community."
Deem ran for re-election in 2007, but was defeated at the polls.
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who said he has known Deem since his own days in the New York State Assembly, called Deem "a very hard-working mayor and a local official who really strived each and every day to do better for his village."
In his spare time, Deem enjoyed bowling, working on his classic cars and coaching at his son's Little League games, his wife said.
Raymond Plakstis, chief of the Great Neck Alert Fire Company and a longtime friend, recalled spending hours in conversation with Deem.
"Richard was a very knowledgeable guy," Plakstis said. "He was the quintessential gentleman."
In addition to his wife, Deem is survived by two sons: Richard James Deem of Great Neck and Colin Deem; a brother, James Deem of Largo, Fla.; and a large extended family.
Services were to be held Friday. Deem is to be buried in Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale.