Michael LoGrande, a passionate planner with a bulldog drive who served as Suffolk’s county executive, Islip supervisor and Suffolk Water Authority chairman and led efforts to save tens of thousands acres of the county’s pine barrens, died Tuesday. He was 80.
LoGrande died at East End Hospice in Westhampton Beach after an eight-month battle with esophageal cancer, a disease that was diagnosed only two weeks after his daughter, Michele died of cancer in March.
“My dad…was never deterred from any battle or any challenge he faced…even cancer,” said his son Michael, a retired Air Force colonel and now a United Airlines pilot. “He was good to everyone with whom he worked and he had an uncanny sense of what needed to be done.”
An MIT trained engineer, LoGrande in 1987 championed the plan that has preserved nearly 100,000 acres of the pine barrens funded by a quarter-cent sales tax. He made the proposal during the year he served as acting county executive. However, LoGrande himself acknowledged he was “not much of a politician.” He lost the election for county executive to Democrat Patrick Halpin the same year.
However, Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said LoGrande’s most lasting legacy is preserving those woodlands. “He was one of the most important players ever in saving the pine barrens to protect water quality,” he said.
But even earlier LoGrande was one of a vanguard of pioneering planners who helped draft the county comprehensive plan and then as Islip’s first planning commissioner. There, he worked with Islip Supervisor Peter F. Cohalan to form a town housing authority and community development agency to rebuild sagging downtowns, create affordable housing and new parks like the 300-acre South Shore Nature Center in East Islip.
When the state proposed turning over Central Islip Psychiatric Hospital to create 2,000 units of public housing, LoGrande and Islip officials convinced the state, based on the town’s planning record, to turn the property over to Islip for a wider range of mixed uses, said Steve Jones, a former LoGrande aide in both the town and the water authority.
While LoGrande was a Republican, Jones added, “Mike wasn’t afraid to use government power to improve people’s lives.” And though not a natural politician, Jones said, “he never thumbed his nose at party leaders, but he never put himself in a position in which he could be dictated.”
LoGrande was later named water authority board member in 1992 and not long after became chair, serving for 18 years before stepping down in 2010. Halpin, who later served with LoGrande on the authority, said, “He turned the authority from a patronage haven to a modern, well-run utility which is one of the best in the nation.”
Born in Brooklyn, he was one of four children of a father who came from Italy to start an auto-wrecking firm where his mother kept the books. He graduated from Brooklyn Tech High School and later from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a civil engineering degree. It was in college that LoGrande met his future wife, Lorraine, to whom he was married for 57 years. After college, he served in the Army Corps of Engineers in Fort Dix, New Jersey, from 1959 to 1962 and later got a master’s in urban planning from Columbia University while working for his father.
After graduation, he began work in Suffolk in 1967. The couple raised their family in Hauppauge and later in retirement the couple split time between Cutchogue and The Villages in Florida, spending as much time as possible with his grandchildren. “He was never afraid to tell you what he thought,” said his son Michael of Alexandria, Virginia. “But if you talk to his grandchildren they will tell he was the gentlest person they ever met.”
Other survivors include his brother, Anthony of Wilton Manors, Florida, two sisters, Grace LoGrande and Patricia Lunetta, both of Selden; son, John of Tampa, Florida and eight grandchildren.
By Rick Brand, Newsday
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