MEXICO — Oswego County is mourning the passing of John “Jack” Proud, longtime civic leader, educator and public servant, who passed away this week.
Proud, 84, was a lifelong Oswego County resident and represented Mexico for more than two decades in the county Legislature including a stint as Majority Leader for the Republican caucus. He spent his career as an English teacher and school principal in the Mexico Academy and Central School District.
Fellow Mexiconian and Oswego County Clerk Michael Backus said he would always remember Proud as a “consummate supporter of children, of community health and of common sense.”
“Jack was the best of us all,” Backus said Wednesday. “He was a unifying force who prided himself on doing good.”
It was Proud who in 2012 nominated Backus to receive the GOP endorsement for County Clerk in Backus’ first run for office. Now in his second term, Backus said Proud taught him important lessons about politics — and perspective.
“I’ll never forget his words to me when his golf partner ended up being my opponent (for Clerk),” Backus recalled. “Jack said, ‘Mike, he’s a good guy and so are you… tell the people why you’re the better candidate and they’ll respond in your favor.’ He knew exactly what to say and after the campaign was over, that next spring, we all played golf together as neighbors united behind the force of Jack Proud.”
“That’s what politics should be and I’m glad he taught me that,” Backus added.
County Legislature Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, who served several terms alongside Proud, said Oswego County “lost a giant,” calling Proud someone who devoted his entire adult life to serving the community and country, from his military service to his career as an educator and legislator.
“Jack Proud always gave his all and helped form our county into what it is today, and I send my prayers and thoughts to his family and I thank them for loaning him to us,” Wilbur said.
Proud taught Wilbur much, the Hannibal Republican said, during their time together in the legislature. When Wilbur was first elected, Proud took him under his wing and helped him become a better legislator, he said. The impact Proud, who was a longtime chair of the county Health Committee, had on the county is still felt today, especially in the health and human services arenas.
“He fought for the people who couldn’t fight for themselves,” Wilbur said. “He was really a stalwart in the sense that he was always fighting for the individuals who needed the help.”
County Treasurer Kevin Gardner, himself a former Chair of the Legislature, served more than a decade alongside Proud and called Proud “an honorable man,” remembering him as both an excellent principal and legislator.
“He was very influential in bringing up many, many kids in the Mexico area,” said Gardner, who was a student when Proud served as principal of Mexico Academy. “He demanded respect but he also gave respect. When you were being told something, or instructed, by Jack, you always knew it was the right way and right thing to do.”
Gardner, who as an adult joined Proud in the county Legislature, said it “was an honor and privilege to sit with him,” and recalled turning to his former principal during tough times to talk out and understand issues or how to move forward. Gardner remembered Proud as a “kind person” who defended others, and noted the longtime legislator and educator had a way of objectively breaking down issues and helping people understand one another’s viewpoints.
“It was incredible to spend 16 years with him at the county and to spend my childhood with him at Mexico schools,” Gardner said. “He will be missed. There’s no doubt.”
Proud served the Mexico school system for 35 years before his retirement in 1994 and current MACS Superintendent Sean Bruno said Proud shared his “wisdom, compassion and dedication” with the district.
“Between his many roles, including English teacher, curriculum director, assistant principal and high school principal, Jack always displayed the utmost professionalism and his desire for students to succeed was plain for all to see,” Bruno said. “The thoughts of the entire MACS community are with Jack’s family and friends at this time.”
Oswego County’s state legislators also mourned Proud’s passing. Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, said Proud was a “gentleman in every sense of the word.”
“Whether serving as principal at Mexico High School or during his long tenure as an Oswego County legislator, Jack had the rare ability to provide leadership without alienating anyone who disagreed with him,” Barclay said. “We lost a great leader yesterday and my thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”
State Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said Oswego County was “truly a better place because Jack Proud lived here, and he will be sorely missed.”
“From a career in education to his more than 20 years as a legislator, Jack Proud dedicated his life to serving the people of Oswego County,” said Senator Patty Ritchie. “Whether he was inspiring students in the classroom or improving local health care, he made a profound difference on countless lives and will forever serve as an example of service for all who come after him.”