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Railroad boss Walter Rich dies

(The following story appeared on The Cooperstown Crier website on August 16.)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Walter Rich, chairman of the board of Delaware Otsego-Corp. of Cooperstown, the New York Susquehanna & Western Railway and Central New York Railroad, died at home in Cooperstown early last Thursday morning after a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Rich, who was 61, leaves behind his wife, Karine, and their children, Stephanie and Derik.

``Cooperstown has lost a wonderful man,’’ Mayor Carol Waller said. ``I’ve known him for years and I can tell you that many people are in mourning today. Our hearts go out to his family.’’

Waller said that Rich died at about 1:50 a.m. ``and the clock in his entranceway stopped.’’

Born in Oneonta in 1946, Rich was the son of George and Dorretta Rich, both former members of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors from the town of Franklin.

He grew up in Franklin, attended Syracuse University as an undergraduate and earned his law degree from Syracuse in 1971.

Rich began his railroad career with a tiny excursion line, operating a steam locomotive along a 2.6-mile-long stretch of track in the Oneonta area. Over more than 35 years, he built a regional freight carrier that operates in two states and he came to know powerful people, including President George W. Bush, who visited him in Cooperstown.

Rich was a director on boards including Energy East and the Glimmerglass Opera. As his railroad grew, he received many honors from trade organizations.

In 1994, the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce named him Man of the Year; eight years later, the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce followed suit.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said he lost a close friend Thursday.

``He traveled for miles with governors and presidents, but at heart, he remained a farm boy from Franklin,’’ Seward said.

Among his causes was the Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care, where he was a board member. Each year in Cooperstown, Rich would underwrite a golf tournament named for his mother to benefit the hospice.

Rich’s funeral was held Tuesday at Christ Church.

Rich’s longtime friend, former U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-Utica, delivered Rich’s eulogy.

``Even in the darkest hour, as the final chapters in his life were being played out, Walter was Walter,’’ Boehlert said. ``I remember so well our first visit following the fateful diagnosis of his illness. To be blunt, I dreaded the meeting, fearing that I would break down coming face to face with the reality that someone I cared so deeply about was nearing the end.

``After responding to my inquiries with a brief, clinical recital of where he was with his treatment and what he expected in the period just ahead, Walter said, ?I’ve got some records I think you would enjoy listening to,’" Boehlert said. "And he turned on the first in the series of Edward R. Murrow’s historic live broadcasts from London at the onset of World War II.’’

Boehlert, who retired from Congress this year, said that for the next several Saturdays, ``We listened to and talked about the events being reported, just a couple of old pals sharing a common interest in some of the great moments in history. Those get-togethers, which I initially feared for understandable reasons, are among my fondest memories now.’’

Rich, whose pallbearers included former state Assembly Majority Leader Michael Bragman and Energy East Chief Executive Officer Wesley von Schack, loved history, Boehlert said. But even more, he loved his family, railroads, politics and baseball. ’

``His friendship and support were coveted by a wide range of elected officials at every level of government,’’ he said, adding that President Bush sought him out at Edgewater, Rich’s lakeside home in Cooperstown.

``But when all is said and done, I am convinced that one of the greatest joys this Dwight Eisenhower Republican derived from his political experiences came when he served as elections commissioner for his home county of Delaware,’’ Boehlert said.

Abbott noted that Rich had asked that ``Life’s Railway to Heaven,’’ be sung at his funeral, and this hymn closed the service Tuesday.

Rich is to be buried in a private ceremony at the Ouleout Valley Cemetery in Franklin.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

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