The last conversation John Cochrane Sr., the former Suffolk GOP chairman, had with his son was the day before Election Day.
He wanted to make sure he got to the polls by 6 a.m. sharp when they opened so he could cast his ballot for his son, Islip Town Councilman John Cochrane Jr. and others.
Cochrane Sr., who also served as head of the Islip Town GOP and 11 terms in the New York State Assembly, never made it. He died Monday night at his home in Brightwaters. He was 89.
Cochrane Jr. said his re-election victory the next day was “bittersweet.”
“He was the greatest dad,” Cochrane Jr. said. “He loved being a politician and a businessman.”
The cause of death was not immediately known, his son said, but Cochrane Sr. had undergone several procedures recently that weakened him. He then fell at his home a couple of weeks ago, his son said.
Cochrane Sr. is remembered as sort of a “fix it” man for the Republican party in Suffolk County. He was brought in to clean up messes when the party was at a low politically, financially and in morale in Islip in the late 1960s, then Suffolk County in the late 1980s.
“He guided the Republican party through some turbulent waters and really set the course that others followed and completed,” said Jesse Garcia, the current head of the party in Suffolk.
Cochrane was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis who brought a sense of integrity, duty and service to his life in politics, colleagues said.
“Over the years I always found him to be a consummate gentleman and truly a man of honor, and in the political arena you don’t see that very often,” said Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter, who counted Cochrane as one of her early mentors.
“This is really a loss to the Town of Islip and the County of Suffolk and really to the country, because he served in the Navy,” she said. Cochrane “really epitomized America.”
Howard DeMartini, who succeeded Cochrane as head of the GOP in Suffolk, ran Cochrane’s first campaign for the State Assembly in 1972.
“He earned everybody’s respect in Albany from the day he got there,” DeMartini said. “He was a real gentleman and he was a tireless campaigner.”
Before long he became the ranking minority member of the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
Cochrane had started off as a Republican committeeman, and by 1968 was tapped to take over the Islip GOP to give it a clean, fresh image after its involvement in the town’s zoning and land scandals, and painful defeats at the polls.
It was a similar scenario two decades later after the party lost control of the Suffolk County Executive seat for the first time in 16 years when Democrat Patrick Halpin won in the heavily Republican county.
The party was in such dire straits that at one point Cochrane lent it $25,000 of his own money, and went four months without a salary.
But he engineered comebacks for the GOP. Halpin was defeated next time around by Republican Robert Gaffney for county executive. After that Cochrane himself went on to be elected Suffolk County Treasurer, moving to bring order to an agency previously known for its disarray.
Cochrane grew up in Bay Shore, graduated from the local public high school in 1947, and then was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy. Afterwards he served four years of active duty aboard a destroyer and an aircraft carrier.
He returned to Long Island, and went into the insurance business. He got involved with politics because people in the know told him, “If you want to do business here in Suffolk County, you better be Republican,” his son said.
He went on the serve 26 years in the Navy reserves, and served as a Blue and Gold officer, interviewing and recommending potential candidates for Annapolis.
Cochrane is also survived by his wife, Elizabeth; another son, James of Little Silver, N.J and also an Annapolis graduate; two daughters, Susan Cochrane of Wichita, Kansas, and Betsy Mayo of Bay Shore; a sister, Helen Molstadt, of Cherry Point, North Carolina; and four grandchildren.
A wake will be held Thursday at Chapey & Sons Funeral Home in West Islip, followed by a funeral Mass on Friday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Peter’s by the Sea Episcopal Church in Bay Shore.