FULTON — Colleagues and friends of former Fulton alderman James McNamara, who died Friday at the age of 86, remember him as a man of faith who always maintained a sense of humor while serving as an honest and tireless advocate for the people of Fulton.
McNamara, who served two decades on the city council, was a lifelong Fultonian who served in the U.S. Army in the mid-1950s before coming home to Fulton, where he raised five children with his wife Marlene. Friends and former colleagues say McNamara, who served as Fifth Ward alderman from 1972 to 1992, left his mark on the city, and remembered him as someone who worked hard, was easy to get along with and cared deeply about his constituents and the city of Fulton.
Verner Drohan, who served as mayor of Fulton from 1980 to 1986 during McNamara's tenure on the council, remembers the former Fifth Ward alderman as someone who “took care of his constituents second to nobody” and was dedicated to the city.
“They were his people, and if anybody had a problem in the Fifth Ward he could solve it,” Drohan said, noting the pair had a “great relationship” and continued to speak regularly through the years. “He looked out for his people and that's what I remember.”
Drohan noted there was a lot happening in Fulton during the mid-1980s, including the construction of the Oneida Street Bridge and various other projects. Drohan said McNamara, an athlete in his own right and an avid sports fan, was always an advocate for recreation in the city. Drohan pointed to renovations at Foster Park and the construction of the pavilion at Recreation Park as improvements made while the pair were in office together.
Jerry Mirabito, who served as city attorney for many years, called McNamara “the essence of what an alderman should be” and someone who knew the people of his ward and looked out for the best interests of them and the city.
“He was a real alderman and always put Fulton first,” Mirabito said. “He really knew the people in his ward, and he'd tell them if he thought they were asking for something that wasn't in the city's best interest. He didn't just say something to make a constituent happy.”
Former Fulton mayor Ronald Woodward Sr., who served with McNamara on the city council for several years in the late 1980s, said McNamara was “honest as the day is long,” and represented the city admirably throughout his tenure on the council, which included time leading the legislative body as council president.
“He was a great guy and I liked him,” Woodward said. “He was very conservative with the public's money and a hell of a councilor. He'll be missed.”
Current Fulton Councilor Tom Kenyon, C-1st Ward, expressed his condolences for McNamara's family and friends, and described the former alderman as a great person and a giant of Fulton politics.
“He was a gentleman that everybody liked,” Kenyon said. “I always thought that he was the best alderman ever in the city. He's going to be missed.”
Frank Castiglia, a former county legislator representing the city of Fulton, called McNamara “a true gentleman,” and said the former councilor provided advice to him during his own runs for office. Castiglia said McNamara shunned the “nasty politics” that too often dominate contemporary politicking, and brought his trademark sense of humor with him everywhere.
“God just got the greatest usher in the world up there,” Castiglia said in reference to one of the many roles at church for which McNamara volunteered his time. “He was just a great all-around guy and he always made me laugh.”
Bernie Caprin, who served with McNamara on the city council in the early 1980s, called McNamara “a heck of a nice guy” and “a good alderman.” Caprin said McNamara had served several terms before — and ultimately after — his own tenure on the council, and despite their place in opposing political parties the veteran alderman treated him as an equal and was willing to help with any issues.
“You couldn't ask for a better guy. I had nothing but respect for him,” Caprin said. “Everybody liked him.”
Caprin said McNamara put his views out in the open, but could move quickly from heated debate to friendly, casual conversation.
“Whenever we discussed what we were going to do about the problems in the city, he saw it his way and I saw it my way — that's how it worked — but we were still friends,” Caprin said.
Mayor Deana Michaels sent her condolences to the McNamara family in a statement Monday, saying though she never met McNamara, he “clearly had an impact” on the city of Fulton in his two decades of service. She thanked McNamara and his family for the many years of service to the community.
Born in January 1934 to Norman and Margaret Eleanor, McNamara graduated from Fulton High School and attended Ithaca College. McNamara enlisted in the U.S. Army and served from 1954 to 1956, a large portion of which was spent stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. He later retired from Niagara Mohawk.
Those who knew McNamara describe him as easygoing and quick to get along with others and strike up a conversation, typically cracking jokes and filling the room with his trademark laugh. He was loyal to those who were close to him, and enjoyed spending time with family and friends.
McNamara was an outstanding athlete, named to the Oswego County Basketball All-Star Team in 1951. He golfed until his final years and twice shot his age on the golf course. He enthusiastically cheered for the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish throughout his life.
Outside of his time on the council, friends and family described McNamara as a man of deep faith. He was active in the Immaculate Conception Church-Holy Trinity Parish community throughout his life and volunteered in a number of different roles with the church.
McNamara is survived by his wife; sons Timothy (Donna), Thomas (Cindy McArdell) and Terence (Kim Wright); daughters Michelle (Ron) Bullard and Donna (Bill) Kramp; sister Patricia Merritt and Norma (Ron) Broderick); brothers Joseph (Sandra), Michael and Thomas; sisters-in-law Donna (Robert) Dlugozima and Marjorie McNamara; 10 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.