Irene Feeney, a powerful member of a prominent Huntington Democratic family, has died in Florida, where she and her husband Martin Feeney, former Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. president, lived in retirement. She was 85.
Feeney died Sunday surrounded by her family at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Fla., after an illness. The couple had been living in Gulf Stream, Fla., since the early 1990s.
Feeney and her husband, a top Suffolk OTB official for 15 years, were a longtime power couple in Suffolk Democratic politics, but Irene was a dominating force on her own. She was a member of the state Democratic Committee, the Suffolk Democratic executive committee, and a member of the Huntington Zoning Board of Appeals. She also was a key fundraiser for the party for nearly two decades and was once named Suffolk Democratic committee's Woman of the Year.
"They were a team, but she was an independent player in her own right," said James Gaughran, chairman of the Suffolk Water Authority. "She was very passionate on issues and the people she supported. And she was not shy about letting you know if she disagreed with you."
Among the candidates of whom she was especially keen were Hugh Carey when he first ran for governor and later former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in 1974. Gaughran added that as a local zone leader, Feeney "was a tough taskmaster . . . if you were not participating and doing your share, she'd let you know."
Bridget Middleton, a longtime friend, said Feeney was the key fundraiser for one of the party's two major annual events, the "Dominic Baranello Golf Open," that was always a huge financial success. "She was considered the queen of the Baranello Open," Middleton said. "She asked everyone for everything and usually got it."
The Feeneys for nearly two decades also had an annual Kentucky Derby party at their East Northport home. "It was the social event of May," said Bradford O'Hearn, one-time press secretary for former Democratic County Executive Patrick Halpin. "There would be Democrats, Republicans and the usual hangers-on, but it was a good party where people were relaxed. I'm sure some business was discussed, but not much."
Feeney was born in Anniston, Ala., attended business college in Florida and moved to Long Island when she married Martin Feeney, her second husband, in 1971. The couple was married for 42 years at the time of her death.
After her husband, who served 14 years as OTB vice president and one as president, retired in 1990, the couple moved to Florida. But Irene Feeney remained politically active as a Palm Beach County Democratic precinct leader, president of the Palm Beach County Democratic Women's Club and vice president of the Democratic Women of the State of Florida. She also belonged to the Boynton Women's Club and the local book club.
Survivors also include four children, John Burg of Delray Beach, Fla., Walter Burg of Gulf Stream, Cynthia Lawson of Lantana, Fla., and Susan Smith of Montgomery, Ala.; two sisters, Margaret Rende of Middle Island and Iris McLeod of Douglasville, Ga.; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A wake will be held at Boynton Memorial Chapel in Boynton Beach from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Vincent Ferrar Roman Catholic Church in Delray Beach Thursday, followed by entombment at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery in Royal Palm Beach, Fla.