Joseph Termini, shown with his wife, Mary Jo Termini, ran twice...

Joseph Termini, shown with his wife, Mary Jo Termini, ran twice for the State Legislature. Credit: Mary Jo Termini

Joseph Termini, who led the state bureau that oversaw failing insurance companies and ran twice for the State Legislature, has died after a 40-year legal career. The Locust Valley resident was 87.

Termini took charge of the New York Liquidation Bureau as special deputy superintendent from 1994 until retirement in 2002, a period when many insurance companies were failing and before state regulators established more safeguards, those who knew him said.

Having started there as an attorney in 1972, Termini negotiated multimillion-dollar deals to protect insurers’ assets for policyholders and creditors, including a $48 million settlement in what state officials in 1989 called “the first major attempt” to hold the parent company of a failing insurer responsible.

When Termini retired in 2002, his co-workers named a conference room in his honor, said Jim O’Connor, who succeeded him.

“He was well respected throughout the entire New York legal community,” O’Connor said. “He was a good, strong manager, very much a common-sense approach to things . . . He did it in a way that was rather unassuming and with a very humble approach.”

Termini died Jan. 15 after a yearlong series of health problems, from a ruptured appendix to lymphoma.

To the end, his family said, he retained the easygoing, storytelling spirit that was evident in his youth, spent in Brooklyn going to movies, biking with friends to Coney Island and playing on a neighborhood baseball team.

A friend since childhood, Joe Genovese remembers how Joseph saved him when the baseball coaches were going to cut him from the team.

“He used to tell them nobody practiced more than me,” Genovese recalled. “He was a very principled person. If he thought something was right, that’s what he was going to do, even when it wasn’t popular.”

A chance conversation with a painter at the Termini house not only firmed up young Joseph’s principles but changed his life. With Joseph unsure of his future after high school, the painter mentioned that his son was attending The Citadel military college in South Carolina.

When Termini got to The Citadel to start studies, his first thought was, “Oh my God, I am putting myself in jail,” his wife, Mary Jo Termini, said.

“He had a very difficult time the first year,” his wife said, “... but he was so proud of himself for having gone through the Citadel. He believed that helped to make him the man he is today — the order, the sense of honor and integrity — and maybe that was what he wanted to continue in the practice of law.”

After graduating in 1958, he was responsible for delivery of classified information within the Pentagon as a second lieutenant in the Army, leaving about six months later when the military downsized, said his son, Joseph Termini Jr., of Atlanta.

For more than three years, Termini juggled duties in the Army Reserves while working as an insurance underwriter and going to St. John’s University, getting his law degree in 1962.

When he lived in Whitestone, Queens, he was a Republican committeeman tapped to run for state Assembly in the late 1960s and for the state Senate in 1970, While he lost to Democrats, he “got a kick” out of chatting with people and exchanging views, his son said.

In his later years, he loved walking with his wife and their dogs Dakota and Sachi, all the while reflecting on what was important in his life — his family and his reputation as an honest attorney, relatives said.

His widow, who also worked as an attorney at the liquidation bureau, said she will always remember the way her husband treated people, from dubbing her his “princess” to spending time getting to know new employees.

“He would put you at ease,” Mary Jo Termini said. “You felt like the most important person in the room.”

Besides his wife and son, Termini is survived by his daughters, Susan Valzovano, of Bristol, Rhode Island, Pauline Karcher, of Cullman, Alabama, Pamela Florio, of Smithtown, and Jennifer Termini, of Stamford, Connecticut. His first wife, Patricia, whom he married in the early 1960s, died in 1993.

A Mass was celebrated Jan. 18 at St. Patrick Church in Glen Cove, followed by burial at St. John Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens.

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