QUEENSBURY — John Austin filled many roles in Warren County during his 84 years, having presided over two superior courts as a judge and served as a Queensbury supervisor and councilman.
But what may be his greatest legacy can be found when participants in Warren County’s Felony Drug Treatment Court meet every week to gauge their progress in beating their addictions.
Seventeen years after the program was started in Warren County under Austin’s direction, hundreds of substance abusers live clean lives because of it. It was the first such program in the region for felons.
Austin, a longtime Warren County judge, community leader and historian, died Monday at Fort Hudson Nursing Home after a years-long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Austin’s service to the community ran the gamut over more than five decades, from Family Court to County Court, Queensbury town supervisor and Warren County historian.
Queensbury Supervisor John Strough, who worked with Austin on numerous local history projects, called him a “Renaissance man,” mentioning Austin’s 50-year history of the Queensbury school system and his participation in the town’s 250th anniversary.
“He loved history, especially local history,” Strough said. “Using his extensive knowledge of local history and his genealogical genius, he was able to ascertain the names of most of the Quakers buried in our town’s Quaker cemetery, southwest of the corner of Quaker & Bay Roads. He was the go-to reference when it came to knowledge of our area’s one-room schools. I often felt he had a photographic memory the way he would cite A.W. Holden’s ‘A History of the Town of Queensbury.’ In short, he was awesome.”
Austin had just as big of an impact on the court system, where he spent nearly 16 years as Family Court judge before moving to County Court. Establishing the drug court in County Court was “one of the highlights of his life,” according to the obituary written by his family.
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Warren County Family Court Judge Ted Wilson, who served as Austin’s court attorney when he was county judge, said Austin was always “kind and welcoming” to those who appeared before him and treated them with respect. He said he has tried to emulate Austin’s demeanor since becoming a judge.
“Judge Austin always treated attorneys who appeared before him with the utmost respect,” Wilson said.
Then-Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan called Austin “a credit to the post” when he retired from the bench in 2003, but also said that Austin could mete out justice when needed.
“John is fair — he’s appropriately tough when he should be, and yet he shows compassion when the case warrants it,” she said.
His fellow lawyers appreciated his demeanor in court as well.
“He used common sense in a beautiful fashion to assure that all appearing before him received not only outstanding justice, but a solution to their problems,” the late Glens Falls lawyer George Zurlo told The Post-Star, also in 2003. “And he had an unsurpassed knowledge of the law.”
In his younger years, the Dartmouth College graduate worked as a reporter, editor and editorial director of The Glens Falls Times, a former local afternoon daily newspaper in Glens Falls. He later graduated from Albany Law School and became a lawyer in 1969.
Austin received the Henry Crandall Award from Crandall Public Library for his service to the community and dedication to the library. He was on the Crandall Public Library board of trustees from 1972-85, and was president of the Southern Adirondack Library System board of trustees from 1985-95.
At Austin’s request, there will be no calling hours, as he dedicated his remains to scientific research at Albany Medical Center College.