H. Douglas Barclay, 88: Towering figure in state, local politics passes away over weekend

Pulaski’s H. Douglas Barclay, a “true pillar” of local and state politics for the better part of a century, passed away over the weekend, his family reports. A graduate of Yale and the Syracuse University School of Law, Barclay served 20 years in the New York State Senate. He is seen above in his official Department of State photo while serving as ambassador to El Salvador.

PULASKI — One of the most prominent Oswego County politicians of the past century passed away over the weekend, the family of former State Senator and Ambassador H. Douglas Barclay announced Monday.

Barclay, 88, was a man whose “heart belonged to the North Country,” his family said, and the Barclay family is now in its ninth generation living in Pulaski. The family patriarch died at home surrounded by his family.

After graduating from Yale University and serving in the United States Army, Barclay took his law degree from the Syracuse University School of Law. He would join the Syracuse firm of Hiscock, Cowie, Bruce, Lee and Mawhinney, rising to partner. The firm is now fittingly known as Barclay Damon LLP.

“My father was always a role model and someone I aspired to be,” said Will Barclay, H. Douglas Barclay’s son and New York Assembly Minority Leader. “If I accomplished even half of what he’s done during the course of his life, I’d say it was a success. No matter where his travels took him, he always carried a deep love and appreciation of Oswego County. He was incredibly proud to call this community home and it was something he instilled in our family. That sense of pride is among the great legacies and gifts that he left for us.”

The elder Barclay, like his son after him, served as both a litigator and Legislator: for two full decades, he represented the region in the New York State Senate from 1964 to 1984. Some of his major legislation concerned housing, criminal justice, court reform and economic development.

But it wasn’t until after his retirement from the statehouse that Barclay began to become a national — and international — figure. Republican candidates seeking elected office in the North Country and surrounding areas frequently solicited Barclay’s advice and perspective, and he was a delegate to multiple Republican National Committee presidential nominating conventions. He spent 2003 to 2006 serving as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador, nominated by President George W. Bush.

Barclay was a member and former Chair of the Syracuse University Board of Trustees, and general counsel and secretary of Key Bank for nearly 20 years. In addition to his political and business activities, Barclay was also dedicated to the people he served and lived among. He helped raise money for improvements to the Pulaski Fire Company, the Northern Oswego County Ambulance Service and the Pulaski Health Center.

“Whether it be in the halls of the New York Capitol, at home in Oswego County, in Korea where he served as a member of the United States Army, or El Salvador, where he served as U.S. Ambassador, H. Douglas Barclay epitomized the true meaning of service,” said State Sen. Patty Ritchie, who now represents part of the area long included in Barclay’s legislative district.

“His tireless efforts have made our region, state, nation and world a better place and I know I speak for countless individuals when I say he will be missed. At this difficult time I extend my most sincere condolences to those who loved him — especially his family. It is my hope they find comfort in knowing Ambassador Barclay’s legacy will endure for generations to come.”

In 2010 and 2011, Barclay and his wife, DeeDee, partnered with local parents of children with special needs to invite nearly 200 people to their home at Douglaston Manor, Pulaski, for a deluxe backyard barbecue complete with pony rides, face painting and arts and crafts — all for free to children and their parents.

“It is my hope that through this event, the network of parents and children who face special challenges in caring for and raising children with special needs strengthens and grows,” Barclay said at the time, according to a story about the event published in The Palladium-Times.

County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup said he was “stunned by the news.”

“I had just received condolences from the Barclay family for my father who passed away a few weeks ago,” Weatherup told the Pall-Times on Monday. “My parents went back to being Town of Hastings Republican committee people who were among the first in the county to endorse Doug on his first run, and they had remained friends ever since. Doug, Dee Dee, and their children have always been very oriented to their roots in Oswego County. They never forgot who you were, regardless of social circle.  He was a true pillar who will be missed.”

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said Barclay “performed his distinguished public service for the greater good,” and was “as concerned about a Pulaski stoplight as the situation in El Salvador.”

“He was an international businessman of acclaim and his love for central New York, particularly Oswego County, was always on full display,” Barlow said. “He was always a gentleman and certainly left his mark, through his work and through his family, on our state, region  and county that’ll be felt for many, many decades.”

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