William Larkin, longtime lawmaker and veteran, dies at 91

Cornwall-on-Hudson. His family announced the death Sunday, calling Larkin a "dedicated public servant, soldier and statesman."

Sep 02 2019 | 01:11 PM

Former state Sen. Bill Larkin, a World War II veteran who served as a state lawmaker in New York for four decades, died Saturday. He was 91.

His family announced the death Sunday, calling Larkin a "dedicated public servant, soldier and statesman."

Larkin represented a stretch of the Hudson Valley as an assemblyman from 1979 to 1990 and then as a state senator until his retirement last year.

A Republican, he was known for forging bipartisan friendships in Albany and advancing veterans' causes and health care for infants. He was a longtime champion of the homeless men who lived at the former Camp LaGuardia shelter in Chester.

“Bill Larkin’s lifetime of service and unwavering dedication to our country will live on as an inspiration," says James Skoufis (D-Cornwall), who now serves in Larkin's former senatorial seat. "May his memory be a blessing to the countless lives he touched."

Larkin is survived by his wife, Pat; eight children; 17 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

"He cherished his family above all else and would occasionally remind me, ‘happy wife, happy life,’ a reflection of his devotion and admiration for Pat," Skoufis said. "I’m deeply saddened for their loss."

An early enlistment

William J. "Bill" Larkin Jr. was born in Troy and was raised by his aunt and uncle. He thought he was 18 when, while still in high school, he enlisted in the Army in 1944. It wasn't until years later that he discovered he was born in 1928, not 1926, as he had always believed.

"I wasn't upset," Larkin recalled last year. "I was in the armed forces. I met with people who cared about our country, and I was very proud."

Larkin served in the Pacific during World War II, where he saw combat in the Philippines, and also later fought in the Korean War, where he had to be evacuated in early 1951 after suffering severe frostbite to his feet.

After retiring from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1967, Larkin entered politics by getting elected supervisor of the town of New Windsor, near West Point. He was first elected to the state Assembly in 1978.

'The quintessential public servant'

Dr. Kristine Young, SUNY Orange president, called Larkin "the quintessential public servant."

"If it was important to his constituents, there was no issue too big or too small for which Bill would not fight in order to improve life for all of us," she wrote in a statement. "Among the countless issues on Bill’s agenda in Albany, education was right there at the top. He was a tremendous friend to SUNY Orange, and his imprint on our College will be felt for generations. He helped shape our vision of how SUNY Orange can more effectively serve students in Newburgh and throughout Orange County. Additionally, his backing of our BRIDGES program allowed us to create needed educational opportunities for students who might not otherwise have had access to college. All of us at SUNY Orange are grateful for Bill’s friendship and support."

Assemblyman Colin J. Schmitt (R,C,I-New Windsor) said Larkin "served with integrity and distinction for decades of his life in the US Army and in state and local elective office. Senator Larkin was a direct participant in many prominent moments of modern American and New York history. His legacy of selfless service set the standard for others to follow and be measured by. Our thoughts are with (his wife) Pat and the entire Larkin family. I know our entire region will mourn Senator Larkin in the coming days and always rejoice in his legacy.”

This story includes reporting by the Associated Press.