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John Gallagher, former Suffolk County police commissioner, dies at 83

John Gallagher served as commissioner of the Suffolk

John Gallagher served as commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department from 1997 to 2004. Credit: Patrick Oehler

Former Suffolk County Police Commissioner John Gallagher was remembered on Sunday as an effective administrator, a big-hearted public official concerned about how government policies affected the little guy, and an avid student of philosophy and history.

Gallagher, who died on Saturday at the age of 83, was also wickedly funny, with a sharp sense of the absurd, said his former boss and longtime friend, Peter Cohalan, who served as Suffolk County executive from 1979 to 1986 and hired Gallagher as deputy executive.

The former county executive remembered how Gallagher once had fun at a party on Fire Island with a guest from New York City who regarded Suffolk residents as local yokels, as Cohalan put it. Gallagher, who spoke fluent German, won the man over by faking an impeccable accent and pretending to be West Germany's trade ambassador to New York.

"He was able to bring humor to the most serious matters," Cohalan said of Gallagher, whom he nicknamed "Chumley." "You need a sense of the absurd and perspective and Chumley had both."

Gallagher, who served as Suffolk's police commissioner from 1997 to 2004, died of kidney failure, according to his son-in-law David Brewer.

Acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron, who worked under Gallagher’s leadership, called Gallagher "a true gentleman and an outstanding leader," who led the department during the 9/11 attacks, rallying officers to assist the NYPD and other agencies with security and the hunt for remains.

Cameron said Gallagher was at the helm of the department at it worked with the United States Department of Homeland Security to purchase equipment to protect the county from future terror attacks.

Gallagher also served as a deputy under former County Executive Robert Gaffney from 1992 to 1997. Gaffney appointed Gallagher as police commissioner in 1997, calling that decision "one of the smartest things I ever did."

He said Gallagher never forgot the extent to which his policies impacted cops and their families. "He was very thoughtful and very compassionate," Gaffney said. "He was a good influence on all of us."

Gallagher also served as executive dean of Suffolk County Community College’s Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood between 1974 and 1980.

"He was a man of faith with a wonderful intellect," said Howard DeMartini, who also served as a deputy county executive under Cohalan. "In the seven years I worked with him, I never heard anyone express a negative opinion about him or his work. He was really loved by everyone who knew him."

Gallagher was born in Brooklyn and attended Xavier Military Academy in Manhattan, where he played Lady Macbeth in an all-male production of the Shakespeare play. HIs classmates ribbed him for the female role, said Shaun Gerien, a longtime Suffolk County Community College faculty member.

But the lead actor — later better known as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — pulled Gallagher aside and encouraged him to tough it out.

After attending Xavier and Manhattan College — where he beat Cohalan in an election for student body president — Gallagher settled in Rocky Point and later the Port Jefferson area in the early 1970s.

Gallagher’s wife Patricia died in 2017. He is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Visitation will be at OB Davis Funeral Home, 1001 Route 25A, Miller Place on Monday, June 21 between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Tuesday, June 22, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. A funeral Mass will be held Wednesday at St. Louis de Montfort Church in Sound Beach, at a time to be determined. Interment will be private.

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