Robert Flynn, a pioneer Huntington Democrat who served as town supervisor in the 1960s and later became the first Democrat to chair the Suffolk Water Authority, has died of cancer. He was 91.
Flynn died Saturday at Hospice House in East Northport, surrounded by his four grown children, but until recently had been living at Bristol Assisted Living Facility in East Northport for 18 months.
"He was a true gentleman," said Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman. "When he gave you his word, the only thing you needed was his handshake, not a 19-page legal document."
Beyond his public career, Flynn also had a thriving law practice for 50 years. He and his son, Robert Jr., also wrote in 1995 a definitive tome on local zoning board of appeals practices, published by the New York State Bar Association. He also was a great storyteller, an avid student of history, reading 100 pages a night for years, and daily did The New York Times crossword in ink.
Flynn first became involved in politics shortly after moving to Huntington in the mid-1950s. He spoke at a public hearing to oppose a proposal to put oil tanks on Huntington Harbor. "The next night, Larry Delaney [then-Huntington Democratic chairman] knocked on our door and the rest was history," said his son, a Northport resident.
Flynn was elected Huntington Town supervisor in 1959, a year before John F. Kennedy was elected president, on a fusion ticket and served until 1965. With Flynn as supervisor, the town adopted the first master plan of any town in New York State, adopted Huntington's first town ethics code, and established Suffolk's first municipal parks system, which included the creation of Crab Meadow Golf Course in Northport and Dix Hills Park with an Olympic-sized pool, riding stables and golf links.
James Gaughran, a veteran Huntington Democrat and current water authority chairman, said Flynn "created the model" which later Democrats followed in a county where Republicans had dominated. "He was more fiscally conservative but more directly paid attention to community needs," he said.
As part of his job, Flynn also served as the lone Democrat on the county board of supervisors. Friend Jack Braslow, former Babylon Democratic leader, recalled, "While it was 1 to 9, he made it look easy, always playing with them." While supervisor, Flynn also lost a 1962 run against GOP Rep. James Grover by 14,000 votes.
In 1977, Flynn became the first Democrat named chairman of the Suffolk Water Authority, after his party took control of the county legislature in the wake of the Watergate scandal. In Flynn's decade as chairman, authority revenue nearly doubled to $45.9 million, the agency added nearly 500 miles of water mains and added 38,000 customers, bringing the total to 262,000.
Walter Hazlitt, a Republican who was Flynn's predecessor and stayed on as executive director, said Flynn ran things in a nonpartisan way. "He was so easy to work with, he made the job a walk in the park," he said. "Not once did the question of political correctness ever come up."
Born in the Bronx, Flynn graduated from Regis High School in Manhattan and the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He enlisted in the Army, serving in Europe during World War II, including at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he graduated from Fordham Law School in 1948, and was law review editor. He married the former Elizabeth Farrell from Scranton, Pa., whom he met while visiting a college friend. The couple were married 62 years.
Flynn retired from his law practice in 2004, and he and his wife moved to Sarasota, Fla. After her death, he returned to Long Island about 18 months ago.
Survivors also include three daughters, Jane Flynn Davidson, of East Northport, Laura Flynn McCarthy of Bow, N.H. and Elizabeth Flynn Irving of upstate Putnam Valley; and eight grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated Saturday at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in East Northport at 11 a.m. He will be cremated later.