May 31, 1935 — June 17, 2019
QUEENSBURY — John Austin, 84, a longtime resident of Queensbury, a Warren County lawyer and judge and distinguished author, historian and genealogist, died at Fort Hudson Nursing Center, Fort Edward, at 1:45 a.m. on June 17, 2019, following a long illness.
Judge Austin served in Warren County Family Court, Surrogate’s Court and County Court from 1984 to 2003. After stepping down from the bench, he was appointed Warren County Historian and served from the fall of 2007 until July 2010, when he was named historian emeritus.
Born in Cambridge, Washington County on May 31, 1935, he was the son of John DeLong and Mabel Cowles (Bascom) Austin. When his grandmother, Mabel (DeLong) (Austin) Chapman, died in 1944, his family then occupied the Glen Street residence that was later designated as the Chapman Historical Museum, and he was a pupil at the old Broad Street School in Glens Falls. He often related that he was one of the few living persons who had slid down the front stairway railing at the Chapman.
The family later resided for many years on Ridge Road in Queensbury, and he attended the old one-room schoolhouse of Queensbury Common Dist. No. 4, located at the corner of Ridge and Hicks roads. He was thereafter educated at Jackson Heights School, Glens Falls junior and senior high schools, graduating from the last with the class of 1953. He later received degrees from Dartmouth College and Albany Law School and worked as a teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. While serving as editor of The Dartmouth, America’s oldest college newspaper, he covered an appearance by the poet Robert Frost, who was so impressed with Mr. Austin’s account he asked the president of Dartmouth to arrange a meeting with him. He also persuaded the Dartmouth paper to endorse President Dwight Eisenhower for re-election in 1956. The Dartmouth was one of the few college newspapers to stand with the Republican Eisenhower over Democrat Adlai Stevenson, and the endorsement earned Mr. Austin a thank you note from the president.
Early employment was at the old Central Market on Cooper Street in Glens Falls; as a towboat deckhand on the Cumberland River in Tennessee; and as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1958 and served as an infantryman and rocket-launcher specialist in west Germany. He later served with the New York National Guard.
Returning to Glens Falls, John worked as a reporter and editorial director of The Glens Falls Times, the afternoon counterpart to the morning Post-Star. While attaining his law degree, he was editor of The Lake George Mirror and did radio news reports for station WWSC. Admitted to the practice of law in 1969, he had an office in the Rogers Building, Bay and Maple Streets. At the same time, he was active in politics, serving as Town of Queensbury councilman, county supervisor and town supervisor, including duties of Warren County budget officer and Social Services chairman.
He was appointed later as law clerk for both county court and surrogate’s court, then gave up private practice in 1980 to become a full-time law clerk in Supreme Court. In 1984, he was appointed by Gov. Mario Cuomo to become Warren County family court judge and was thereafter elected to two successive terms. He was the fourth person to hold that office and served for 15 years. In 1999, he was appointed Warren County judge and surrogate by Gov. George Pataki and was thereafter elected to the position, and served until retirement in 2003. In October 2002, he started the county’s drug treatment court as an alternative to state prison. The program has an 80 percent success rate and he considered it one of the highlights of his life experience.
He worked as an officer and director of many local groups, including terms as president of the Warren County Bar Association, Southern Adirondack Library System, Crandall Public Library and the Glens Falls-Queensbury Historical Association. He was a director of the Warren County Historical Association and was active for many years with the Extension Service Association and its 4-H program, including duties as chairman of the County Youth Fair. As a youth, he had been a member of the Mighty Men, the first boys’ 4-H Club in Warren County.
He also served on the board of Warren County Head Start and as treasurer and board member of the Chapman Historical Museum. For more than 30 years, John served as secretary-treasurer of the Stephen J. Potter Memorial Foundation, which makes charitable grants to local students and groups. He was a longtime member of both Mohican Grange and Glens Falls Lodge, 81, B.P.O. Elks.
John worked in the 1960s as area editor of Tree Talks of the Central New York Genealogical Society and in the 1970s as editor of The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, which is published from Boston. He was in 1970 named a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, a designation limited to 50 living individuals at any time. He had for many years served as that society’s membership chairman. He was the compiler of Mayflower Families, Vol. 6, three editions, family of Stephen Hopkins, for the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and the author of articles appearing in several genealogical journals, including The American Genealogist, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record and National Genealogical Society Quarterly. He was also the author of published fiction. He lectured on New York State genealogical research, including the two World Conferences on Records of the LDS Church, and served on Records Advisory Committee of the New York State Unified Court System and on a similar committee of the New York State Archives.
John was a longtime fan of the Adirondack Red Wings and its successor hockey teams. He enjoyed listening to country music at Rick and Carol’s, participating in Red Cross blood drives, collecting tapes of old radio programs from his youth and answering family-history queries on local websites.
He was married at the Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, Queensbury, on Aug. 15, 1969 to Marcia Kay Behan, who died on July 28, 1997. His soulmate, Marcia was a longtime teacher and Board of Education member of the Queensbury Union Free School District. Two children, John DeLong Austin III of Bronxville and Susan Behan Austin of Beacon; Susan’s wife, Lorielle Mallue; and a grandson, Henry Fenno Austin-Mallue, survive. In addition to his wife and parents, others who predeceased him are two sons, James Behan Austin and Michael John Austin; a sister, Nancy Austin Wright; and a brother, James B. Austin. Other survivors are his brother, Fred Austin of Lake George; and many nieces, nephews and cousins of both himself and his late wife.
By his wishes, his body has been donated to Albany Medical Center College under its Anatomical Gift Program. His remains will eventually be buried with his loved ones in Sunnyside Cemetery, Queensbury. At his request, there will be no calling hours or service at this time.
The family extends its gratitude to the staff of Fort Hudson, as well as to Toni M. Varnum of Stony Creek, the staff of HomeInstead Senior Care of Gansevoort and others who helped John to live in his home as long as possible.