Nonprofit leaders on Long Island were shocked and saddened by the unexpected death this weekend of Family and Children's Association head James Harnett, a prominent leader in the area's nonprofit community.
In just under four years at the helm of the Mineola-based social-services nonprofit, Harnett, 63, managed to establish himself as a key nonprofit player, said Richard Dina, former head of the organization.
"He was very quickly respected and appreciated for his personality and values and the effectiveness of his work," Dina said.
Harnett, who routinely worked 12-hour days, died Saturday, apparently of a heart attack, said Family and Children's Association chief operating officer Phil Mickulas.
"In a relatively short period of time - four years - he became very well known on Long Island as a source of wisdom and strength and good humor," Mickulas said. "Many groups tried to grab a piece of him, and they did."
In addition to his work at the family association, Harnett served on a multitude of boards and committees. He was chairman of the Long Island Federally Qualified Health Center, which aims to improve health care for the poor and uninsured.
"Nassau County has lost one its most dedicated human service leaders," Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said in a statement. "Jim was a role model for all those who would seek to dedicate their lives to the neediest and most vulnerable of our citizens."
Arthur Gianelli, president and chief executive of the NuHealth System, called Harnett "irreplaceable."
He came to the Family and Children's Association after a career as second-in-command at Covenant House in Manhattan, a multimillion dollar nonprofit that runs shelters for troubled youth in the United States and around the world.
Harnett had shepherded that organization through a rocky point in 1989 when the founder resigned while facing an investigation into sexual misconduct charges.
Gwen O'Shea, president and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, said Harnett was a cherished mentor whose impact on social services here is immeasurable.
"Jim was a person that everyone I knew respected," O'Shea said.
Karen Boorshtein, president and CEO of the Family Service League, a competing organization in Huntington, said Harnett's death leaves a void in the social-service world here. "We've lost a real champion for people," she said.
Harnett is survived by his wife, Fran, of Little Neck; children James and Sarah; mother, Eleanor; brothers Richard and Robert; and sister, Joan.
Burial services will be private, although the Family and Children's Association plans a memorial service in the future.